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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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  • Nov 24 2012: As many of us, I grew up with that constant reminder from my parents, particularly my Mom, to always tell the truth. Naturally I tested the boundaries on that and yet always feared being "found out." Now having experienced truth both from being trusted and trusting others I know this is the foundation of humanity. I get the data that the written word is more true than the spoken--more accountability in the written word. And that's a sad state isn't it? I wonder if the research looks at other dimensions of people who do their "inner work" and have a deeper radar for truth speaking than others. Plus there's a cultural pattern of letting people get away with "white lies" as a given vs. having direct accountability.

    To me it's not morality, it's at the essence of what makes me feel good about myself and sleep with ease vs. not. It's an internal radar.
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      Nov 25 2012: Why is it that "telling the Truth" is perceived as something "Good" for you ? For example "helping Others" is something as important from a social point of view. Is "telling the Truth" preferred because it costs nothing ?
      • Nov 25 2012: I believe "the truth shall set you free" is spot on Jean-Charles. In fact it costs the most--telling lies does. Look at Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Madoff and the list is endless. There is no upside to being anything but honest. The systemic problem in my humble opinion is people are unwilling to be honest with themself.
        • Nov 25 2012: ex.

          Do you tell your friend, who his wife just died, that his wife had been having an affair...Being asked if you know who the guy in the background of the funural was, even though you really know everything..
          What would be best for your friend, if lets say, he takes his wifes death extremely poorly. What is best for their children etc?

          Should guys tell there wifes they look fat in that dress, when they do?

          Should girls stop acting like all our faults are ok/not there most of the time?

          I'm not sure i would answer the same on all, but those questions are indicators that the wrong truth might ex. make someone depressed, a killer, or take their own life

          I was actually a huge fan of extreme truth telling at one time, but I found out most can't handle it and will react very irrationally (from my point of view) when presented with truths they even asked for in the first place. People dont want the truth alle the time. So now I lie all the time like everybody else.

          My mother is a Jehovas Witness, and even they lie, all the time! To protect and serve each other (avoid conflicts f.ex.). But they don't percieve it like that though (when asked about it, they respond they never lie, which ironically also is a lie :)
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          Nov 25 2012: Kaare,
          You ask..."Do you tell your friend, who his wife just died, that his wife had been having an affair..."

          If I am directly asked the question, I tell what I know. If the person is asking the question, s/he probably already knows. How does it serve anyone to lie?

          If I am asked a question such as this, I ask the person...."do you honestly want the answer"? If we do not honestly want a truthful answer, I suggest we do not ask the question.

          Guys no not have to tell their wives thay look fat. If a guy is creative and intelligent enough, he might say something like..."that dress does not look as good on you as that other dress that I really like". If the wife (or husband) is overweight, you can tell him/her that you care about them very much, and you are concerned about their health.....suggest that you walk together each day, or some other exercise together.

          Many people CAN handle truth Kaare, and truth has to start in ourselves. Perhaps it is how you present the truth? I am getting an idea of how you communicate based on your comments,.

          Everybody does not lie, and I'm glad you say your comments are from your "point of view", because it certainly is not truth.

          "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes...."
          (Marcel Proust)

          Sometimes, when we have a certain "point of view", it is helpful to consider information from a different perspective, to discover the real truth. As long as your point of view, is that everybody lies, you are, of course justifying it in yourself.
      • Nov 25 2012: Telling the Truth is perceived as something "Good" for you because people can choose how to respond (act) under the circumstances. If the used car salesman will just tell me the shiny blue car has a broken motor then I can choose to find another one. At the heart of social responsibility is violating the free will of others. Some even say human free will should be considered as sacred. Extreme crimes are obvious examples of such violations but hiding the truth from another person impedes their ability to choose a course of action, like a husband or wife who does not want to live with a cheater.

        I disagree that telling the truth costs nothing. Just ask the used car salesman. He failed to sell me the blue car because in a brief moment of altruism he informed me about the broken motor and I bought another car (from another salesman). People lie to protect their investments. Spouses hide infidelity because they want their home life and their extra-marital adventures as well. To tell their spouse would "cost" them their happy (if half-hearted) home.

        One has to care about other people in order to tell the truth just because it is the right thing to do. Compassion and empathy are qualities that accrue to the evolved in our society. Such people invariably find it wise to live a life that does not require hiding the truth from others. The Golden Rule--to do unto others as you would have them do unto you--is in my opinion more of a warning or a recommendation than just nice advice to be nice to other people. The Biblical phrase "the truth shall set you free" is matched with “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7-9).” Those who fear God's wrath for lying do so due to the notion that in the next life (a just place) one will not know the truth somehow and that will be an unfortunate situation. In the end, it is right to tell the Truth because the absolute truth about us is, in Itself, our Salvation.
        "Know thyself."
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      Nov 25 2012: Bobby and Jean-Charles,
      I agree Bobby, that telling the truth does not come up on my "radar" necessarily as a moral issue, although it certainly can be intertwined with morality. For me, the question is....what feels better? Telling the truth....or not? Wherever we go, there we are with our "self". How does it feel when we are carrying a lie around with us?

      "Oh what a tangled web we weave,
      When first we practise to deceive!"

      Lies do indeed become tangled, because once a lie is spoken, one generally needs to continue with the lie to keep covering it up. No point in living like that, in my humble opinion.

      Along the same line, I also agree with what Vincenzo Sergi writes on this thread... "If you always tell the truth, you don't need a good memory". It must be very confusing when someone is weaving his/her web of lies, and forgets what s/he said to whom!!!

      You write in your introduction...."some information may cause havoc". This is true, and in making the decision to tell a lie, we are making a judgement based on our own perceptions. We are actually trying to control the beliefs of the person to whom we lie....are we not? And what kind of "havoc" is sometimes the result of the lie? Once a lie is told, we undermine our "self", so that people are less willing to trust any more. It is important for each of us as individuals to know what our own limits are, do you think? How do we want to "BE" in this world in each and every moment?
      • Nov 25 2012: Kaare--I see the distinction as "staying on my side of the street" vs. stepping into another's integrity (or not). This rule only applies as the internal radar. Do I judge, as in thinking my wife needs to loose weight etc., absolutely I judge? Do I need to speak everyone of those? No.

        I'm talking about those lies I tell myself and so skillfully I start to believe they ARE the truth. That internal talk. If I take the time to get quiet and allow my inner guidance to truly speak, then perhaps I allow for the deepest truth to be revealed.
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        Nov 25 2012: Colleen, you are right when stating that lying or, more generally, misinforming is a way to control the reaction of people. However, people have great consideration about not being lied to, but are perfectly ok when being convinced by apparent logic. And I want to point out "apparent" because when you look more carefully, people are not convinced only by logic, but also by their own biases, by storytelling, by rhetoric, etc. So a manipulative intent is not always a lie, and trying to control or change someone's beliefs can be done while speaking the truth.

        I won't tell a dying woman that her son was just killed in an accident, if asked, I would blatantly lie to her saying he's ok, because I want her to be in peace for her last minutes. I may stay silent about some facts when the one who committed them shows repentance.That is my point of view, and I can understand that people can disagree. I just consider that following basic rules is not adapted to all situations, and that choices are required in such cases. At times, governments themselves had dark times and speaking the truth made dramas occur. So I care more about outcomes than on rules to feel ok with my conscience.
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          Nov 25 2012: Jean-Charles,
          I agree that if they let themselves, people can be controled by the reaction of people, by misinformation, by apparent logic, which can also be lying or deception, by biases, storytelling, etc. etc.

          Yes...absolutely...some folks can indeed try to control or change someone'e beliefs with speaking their own truths.

          Your theory about not giving a dying person information because you want her to be in peace for her last minutes, doesn't feel good to me, because some of us are able to sense when someone is not telling the truth. So, lying to me because I am on my death bed may actually cause more distress for me...I could probably sense a lie, and may not actually know what the lie is. I may simply know there is an untruth.

          Perhaps it boils down to what we would prefer ourselves? Do unto others, as you would want them to do unto you? I personally, would prefer truth...whatever the circumstances, and that is what I give to others, to the best of my ability. With lies, we are usually trying to create our own comfort and/or protection, not that of the one we are lying to.

          I agree with the idea Tim Spahn brings to light...
          When we tell the truth, we give people accurate information and they can choose how to respond (act) under the circumstances. If we do not give them accurate information, we deny them that opportunity. Hiding the truth from another person impedes their ability to choose a course of action.

          I agree with you Jean-Charles, that at the end of the day, I care more about outcomes, and that is the important piece of the puzzle. I always feel much more content with truth and honesty:>)

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