Is honesty the best policy?

Throughout my entire life, there is one situation I have consistently feared getting into. This nightmare scenario begins with a couple I know, who have a newborn child, coming and asking me if I thought their baby was cute. What if the baby was not cute? What if the baby was ugly? What is the proper protocol in that situation?

This problem feeds into a bigger question: is it always good to be honest? There are plenty of instances where the answer might appear to be no. At times, dishonesty can seem like the obvious choice, especially when it is presented with very few consequences, as shown in an article written in Oct. 1990 by Amar Bhidé and Howard H. Stevenson for Harvard Business Review, titled “Why Be Honest If Honesty Doesn’t Pay.” Bhidé and Stevenson wrote that oftentimes, especially in matters of business, honesty can be stifling and will not pay nearly as well as working under the table.

In addition, the question arises about honesty and kindness. Is it really kinder to always tell the truth? If someone purchases an unflattering article of clothing or bakes an unappealing dessert, it can almost be merciful to lie and spare that person’s feelings. The article, “I’m just sayin’ … honesty isn’t always kind,” published Nov. 11, 2015, for “A Year of Living Kindly,” written by Donna Cameron, addresses this issue when she writes, “I believe there are times when telling the truth may not be the best course of action. And being able to discern the appropriate time for truth-telling and the appropriate time for silence or even a downright lie is another important characteristic of good people…certainly of kind ones.” According to Cameron, at times, truth is not always warranted, and it can be a mercy to spare someone from it.

However, in the Forbes article, “Honesty Really Is The Best Policy,” published on Feb. 13, 2023, and written by Jason Richmond, it is argued that in matters of human connection, honesty is nearly always the best policy, even in uncomfortable situations. He wrote that, “Every time you interact with your people is an opportunity to build or squander trust.” According to Richmond, in corporate culture, short-term honesty, though difficult, builds trust in relationships and helps people connect more in the long run.

Luke 12:2 from the NIV Bible also argues for the importance of honesty, stating that, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” The gospel is saying that whether people want it to or not, the truth will be revealed, meaning it is useless to lie. Because of the Bible’s widespread impact on the western world, verses like this have become very influential in influencing modern morality.

So, with all this in mind, I believe honesty is a necessity in everyday life. Especially from a Biblical perspective, it is important to live life honestly, with nothing to hide. It is easier to go through life as an open book, heart firmly planted on your sleeve. On the other side of things, while I do not condone lying, I do believe in deliberate truth telling. At times, information is not important for people to know, so actively choosing to reveal that information can be extremely hurtful to many people.

So, to answer the question about the ugly baby, instead of answering honestly, I might try to change the conversation to the wonderful things the child will accomplish in their life. Because as important as honesty is, kindness can often be the best policy.