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Seigi Karasaki

Organizer @ TEDxTodai, TEDxTodai

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Do people deserve to know the truth, even if it isn't in their best interest?

Is truth always the best choice of action? In "On the Decay of the Art of Lying," Mark Twain argues:

"Lying is universal--we all do it; we all must do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others' advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling. Then shall we be rid of the rank and pestilent truth that is rotting the land; then shall we be great and good and beautiful, and worthy dwellers in a world where even benign Nature habitually lies, except when she promises execrable weather. "

What are your thoughts?

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    Mar 16 2013: Seigi, I try to not lie. I have, but never with the intent of hurting someone. I have also posted some things on TED that I later found were untrue. That taught me to do better research.

    Quick story: I arrived at a accident scene where a camper had been hit by a train. I seated the woman away from the scene with minor cuts and bruises .... She asked about her husband ... I directed the ambulance crew to take her for eval at the local hospital. The husband had been thrown and the camper shell landed on his head. I sent her away knowing this. My purpose was to not have the last image of her husband like this. She said at the hospital that she deserved to see him and I denied her that right. Yep, she is right. She said she would never forgive me. I hope that when she recalls her husband he is young, strong, and smiling. I can live with that lie and wish her well.

    There is no universal rule. No absolutes. Time and circumstances dictate our actions. In my case .... can you live with the decision. She probally still hates me ... but I lied to her as a act of love ..... I can live with it.

    I wish you well. Bob.
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      Mar 16 2013: Bob,

      I found this to be incredibly emotional and moving. Thank you for sharing. What a hard decision to make it must have been..
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      Mar 21 2013: Hi Bob,

      Your story fascinates me. I agree with Seigi's comment, but now I am interested in someone with the same experience making the other decision. Thank you for sharing with us Bob.
  • Mar 16 2013: Yes, people deserve the truth, including yourself.

    Intentionally speaking false statements, over-stated or under-stated facts, or manipulative partial truths changes your words from helping people with information to tools of manipulation.

    There is enough of a problem with mis-truths being spread out of ignorance without intelligent people choosing to spread them. Education has as its goal the eradication of ignorance. There is no good balance on the spreading of mistruths except personal honor, integrity, and respect for the audience and yourself.

    In truth is a simple beauty that deserves to be shared. Anything else slows the progress of humanity.
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      Mar 16 2013: I agree with you, especially on an individual level.

      What I'm trying to figure out is if any exceptions to this rule exist, or if it can truly be considered universally applicable.
      • Mar 16 2013: One exception might be fiction writing. Another might be some of the things parents do help children have a nice childhood. However, I can not think of any instances on an adult level where it is in the listening party's interest to hear non-factual information. However, there are many instances when silence might be the best word choice.
  • Mar 18 2013: Any truth that does not bring liberation and emancipation is not a very important truth. Sometimes truths are not solutions, and solutions may be more important than truth.
    For example, if I have a severe toothache, i want relief, and quickly too. The last thing i need is a dentist's lecture on the truth about my teeth. Millions of Nigerians are struggling under the weight of poverty, the truth as expressed by economic jargons, graphs and charts, wont be of much help.

    But there is always truth at the basic level, that liberates and empowers. This, we cannot do without.
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    Gail . 50+

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    Mar 17 2013: Everything is relative. Let's say that you are on your death bed and you know you are dying. If I were to visit you and show you conclusive proof you have done something that you yourself have often said is deserving of Hell, what exactly would be accomplished - other than perhaps making you as miserable as I am if I were to do such a horrible thing to you?

    But in general, people always deserve truth because the truth can set us free. But opinions are not truth, and too many confuse the two.
  • Mar 16 2013: There are times when we should say nothing rather than tell the truth or a lie. We sometimes have no way of knowing whether it's in someone's best interest to tell the truth, so rather than lie to them, say nothing. If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all. Sometimes when someone wants to tell someone the truth, it's not because they think it' s for their own good, it's because want to hurt them.
  • Mar 16 2013: "Do people deserve to know the truth, even if it isn't in their best interest?"

    "Deserve" has nothing to do with the issue.

    There are many scenarios where telling someone the truth is most definitely not in their best interest. In those cases, telling someone the truth is harming them. IMO, that is unethical. (Unless, perhaps the person "deserves" to be harmed.)

    I took care of my chronically ill wife for 15 years, and during that time I shielded her from many truths, notably our household finances. I have absolutely no doubt that I was right to do so.

    The government does not tell us the truth about some of its functions because the truth must be kept hidden from our enemies.
  • Mar 16 2013: I like to stay with people who likes to tell the facts.because I feel comfortable to be together with them.So I like myself to tell the facts all the time.
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      Mar 21 2013: How are you certain that everyone you talk to doesn't tell white lies every once in awhile? It is all about the self made perceptions that we need to examine before we fall into an obvious pitfall we set up ourselves, like those always tricky "never" and "always" statements.
  • Mar 17 2013: Truth is in the best interest of every one. Selectivity is a factor. Some people are aware that truths expressed can be positive truths. Some people fear truth needlessly. Some people think truths are negative. Truth is neutral. Seek/Find.
    If we seek positive truths and express them, we will have positive impacts. It is because people in our society were raised through methods involving manipulation of their behavior by fear provocation when they were impressionable children, they start lying to avoid being punished. Let's stop manipulating the behavior of others and just manipulate our own behavior. If people feel they must manipulate the behavior of children or others, let them use positive methods of doing that. This will elevate the level of truth, justice, health, happiness and general well-being of all people in our world.
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    Mar 16 2013: I think the question is: How do you determine that the truth isn't in their best interest? Is it really upto us to decide that (and lie as a result of the rationality we design for it)?
    We can't see the future, we can't see everything, so all we have are our own personal assumptions to dictate the fate of the person in question.
    There just aren't that many instances where lying can legitimately be known to be ultimately for the greater good, and by extension, it doesn't seem appropriate to withold potentially life-alterting information from someone which is essentially making you choose their life for them.
    Just my two cents.
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      Mar 21 2013: i agree that we can not be absolutely sure if lying is the best thing for another person, yet we trust ourselves that it is the right thing to do.. (for what ever reason)
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    Mar 23 2013: Lying is part of being human. To not lie simply makes one less human.
    A stark statement like the one above only serves to make the average persons head nod up and down or side to side. Either way you slice it, we have all done it. It seems instinctive and perfectly natural. Despite the best intentions of Ben Franklin, honesty is not always the best policy. That said, lying is something like wine to me: too much and everyone hates you.
  • Mar 22 2013: but you are your mind? if you don't work to how your brain works then you aren't using it to its full potential
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    Mar 22 2013: WOW...Your wordsmith skills ,if this is your own..is hardcore excellent.There is an essay by a man Northrope Frye who wrote a book called the Educated Imagination,In the book,last chapter he explains with great skill the needs and conditions for social lying. It made me feel better to see the pattern was in fact admitted to exist and had sequence to it that repeated. I felt as if I studied long enough...maybe I could break the code,or channel it.Maybe YOU are the person for this job..who knows.This short essay(last chapter) is worth your efforts.I am pleased to know you have chosen this quest and am wishing you the vision to succeed
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    Mar 22 2013: If I am going to say something, it is going to be based on fact because my memory sucks and I can't remember what I lied about. I am honest to a fault...

    My friend wanted me to go wedding dress shopping with her, because i am so honest. and I was..

    but there are times that the truth can be said without saying the truth, and then no one has to have hurt feelings. For instance something small would be 'how does this dress look' if i honestly did not like the dress i would say 'i don't have to wear it, do you feel confident? do you feel good in the dress?" If she said 'yes' i would say 'then the dress looks great on you' (because it would be her confidence coming through in the dress. However, if she said 'no' i would then ask 'well, then, why are you wearing it?' that is just something simple. but i think you get my point.

    that is all.
    Ronney
  • Mar 22 2013: I think that an individual deserve to know the truth, even if it is not in their best interest. i say this because I feel that if its a genuine relationship among the individuals involved , they will respect your honestly.
  • Mar 21 2013: i think faster than i type adding punctuation would only be worse
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      Mar 21 2013: I'm sure if you try, then you can adapt. It is all about making your mind work for you, and not the other way around.
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    Mar 21 2013: Ithink, if you lie to protect some one's feelings then it was worth it, even if you are caught.
    yes they have to learn the truth sometimes , but if it could break that person mentally and spiritually then i would not tell them the truth.
  • Mar 16 2013: no this is wrong down to the basic moral fiber of its ideology lying is wrong everyone deserves the truth without the truth we let ourselves unknowingly make impartial decisions we should never be afraid of how someone will act if we tell them the truth the truth is what our world and the universe is if you lie about what your world is in any level you are personally creating irrationalities in your own mind as well as others
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      Mar 21 2013: I'm going to say the "truth" here, but where are your punctuation's and upper case letters?
  • Mar 16 2013: This question can be illuminated by the inverse: Do people deserve to be lied to, misled and deceived on an everyday basis by people who have pledged, vowed and promised to be on their side?

    To that, the answer is definitively no.
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      Mar 16 2013: I think that what you say is true, Rand, but you limited the parameters of the question quite a bit by throwing in words like 'everyday basis' and 'pledged, vowed, and promised to be on their side'.. the original did not imply any sort of established relationship.
      • Mar 16 2013: Well. Do people deserve to be lied to?

        I read the question again and must ask: who determines what someone's best interest is? According to economic science, only the individual can determine his or her best interest. Not an external decision maker.

        So do people want to be lied to?
    • Mar 16 2013: There are times in life when telling someone "the truth" is not the kind thing to do. What you define as "the truth" may not be reality, you sometimes can only see things from your own perspective. What you see as the truth could really be a lie.
    • Mar 16 2013: Sometimes "you can't handle the truth." We can not presume to think that everyone wants to hear the truth and I agree with those that say: don't give your opinion unless it's asked for. Even when giving your friend want you think the truth is...say in a kind way, because sometimes we all make mistakes. You can tell someone that my opinion is or this is what I think is true, you can agree or disagree with me. Never believe that you know what the truth is...nothing in life is so black and white.
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    Mar 16 2013: I think one should always try to tell the truth, but present it in a way that is to everybody's advantage.
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    Mar 16 2013: I can think of a few cases in which it might be better to leave people to their delusions rather than shining a bright light on the matter. I think it is worth being cautious, for example, when a person suffers from severe depression or is physically highly vulnerable.
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      Mar 21 2013: According to psychology, those types of people should be kept in their delusions, but I think another strategy they use is to give the individual all the tools they need to get out of a delusion. Maybe even do some small reveals?