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Jean-Charles Longuet

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Telling the truth: are there limits?

Two recent talks focused on "Truth" as something good/moral. Practically, however, some information may cause havoc: the Wikileaks diplomatic data disclosure, for example, coulad have put some people at risk.

How should we manage the decision to disclose (or not) such information? Or manage the moral dilemma when telling a lie may have a positive outcome?

[update 2012/11/25] The conversation initially mixed a few things : Truth is something that is not as obvious as it seems, and Lies are more related to a deceiving/manipulative intention that to the hiding of some Truth.

Anyway, all points of views are welcome.


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  • Anne N

    • +2
    Nov 19 2012: My stand on this is as follows:

    We should tell the truth as far as possible. However, I think there are two types of times when the truth will hurt someone. 1) When the truth will hurt someone irreversibly or 2) When it will hurt someone and then gradually help that person/ make the person glad that at least they knew the truth early on.

    When the truth we tell would lead to option 2, we should tell the truth.

    However, what do we do when we think a truth will irreversibly affect someone? Well, we can do two things.

    1) Lie or 2) Tell the truth in a more well-packaged manner i.e deliver the truth while keeping the facts there.

    In this case, I feel that people should go with the second approach.

    Lies do snowball.
    Telling lies often do lead to positive outcomes but I believe they lead to short term positive outcomes, not long term ones. The truth on the other hand, can lead to both positive/ negative outcomes in the short and long term but at the end of the day, people are MOSTLY glad to know the truth.
    • Nov 21 2012: "When the truth will hurt someone irreversibly"
      Do you have an example of this? I can't think of any possiblility of that.
      I happen to think that the truth applies in the second way almost exclusively.
      • Anne N

        • 0
        Nov 23 2012: Hmm. My take is that the truth would hurt someone irreversibly if the person does not have the personality to let go of the truth and move on from the truth especially if the truth was packaged in such a harsh way that it affects the person's self esteem.

        For example, I shall give a scenario of a student that tries extremely hard but fails every subject and does terribly in his or her school activities, and a teacher telling the student "You're a failure in everything you do". To a person who has the ability to let go of this harsh comment, he or she may decide to prove the teacher wrong and try even harder or find another passion which he or she can excel in etc.

        However, to a person who does not have the personality to forget and move on, he or she may drop out of school and continue to believe that they are not capable of doing anything. Thus, his or her life may be ruined from this remark.

        Having said that, I believe that the teacher should not lie to the student. Rather, the teacher should have delivered the truth in a "better package" whilst keeping the facts. For example "I see that you have been failing your subjects and doing badly in your school activities. I know that you are trying really hard. However, from my experience, every student has their strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you have yet to find your passion."
        • Nov 23 2012: I think this is a good way to approach the matter. It is akin to the question of how your life changes in relating to this person.
          "It's not 'what' you say, it's 'how' you say it."

          "if the person does not have the personality to let go..."
          Is it ok to fore-go a "yes or no," and give an answer which can be remembered and learned-from as that person ages & changes? (And what-then if they demand a yes or no?)
      • Anne N

        • 0
        Nov 26 2012: Thanks, Steve! Hmm. I would say that if the person does not have the personality to let go, a yes or no should still be given but following that/ before that, words which can be remembered and learned from can be given.

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