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The Beginner's Test: Are You an Honest Person?

Truth or Dare: Version 1.0
Part 1 of 4

You’ve probably played some version of the game “Truth or Dare.”  Either answer a question truthfully, or take a dare. Let’s play.

TRUTH: When was the last time you told a lie?

If you answered this question, you’re probably already justifying yourself, “Hey, if I’d told the truth, I would have gotten into a lot of trouble.” Or, “If I’d told my friend what really happened, she would never have forgiven me.” Or, “I couldn’t tell my dad where I was going, he would never have allowed it.”

By definition, a lie directly opposes the truth. It’s dishonest.

When you lie, you say something that you know not to be true. Telling your mother that you made an A on the history exam, although you made a C, clearly falls under this category. Or, if you call in sick for work when you feel perfectly fine, you're lying. If you practice honesty, on the other hand, you speak the truth. You won’t tell an outright lie.

But many of us practice other behaviors which, although not classified as absolute lies, do keep us from telling the whole truth. We might not want to admit it (I know I don’t), but we all have our own ways of veering from the truth at times. Let’s take a look at some of the more subtle ways we do this - all versions of lying.

Shading the Truth

Maybe you’ve tried justifying your less-than-honest words by telling yourself that you weren’t really lying: “Well, I did tell the truth—I just made everything sound a little better so no one would get upset.”  

When you shade the truth, you craft a slightly different impression for your listener. Usually, you bend the truth to your own advantage. 

For example, if you don’t want your parents to know that you went to a wild party at your friend’s house, you might say, “Yeah, I went to Connor’s house. While I was there, a few of his buddies came by to hang out.” You convince yourself that you told your parents the truth, and technically, you did. But by carefully wording your description, you gave your parents a misleading impression. You gave them a dishonest answer.

Exaggerating

Of course, you know what it means to exaggerate. But maybe you don't consider it in the same category as lying.

When you analyze an exaggeration, though, you can see that it’s adding to the truth, inserting untrue details into your story in order to make a situation seem either much better or much worse than it really is. 

Let’s say you don’t want to finish the yard work your dad required of you. You might be tempted to exaggerate the difficulty of the task so that he will let you off the hook. 

And what about keeping up appearances online? Do you ever exaggerate all of those status updates on your social media accounts?

The fact is: you're not being honest when you exaggerate.

Withholding Information

On the other end of the half-truth spectrum is omitting information. After all, you’re really not saying anything that isn’t true. You’re just leaving out part of the truth. 

Note that withholding information isn’t necessarily dishonest. There are times to share certain information and times when it’s clearly inappropriate. For example, if a stranger you met online asks you to tell him more about yourself, you would never want to reveal personal information. And the fact that we don’t go around verbalizing all of our thoughts has little to do with honesty and more to do with basic etiquette. Sharing every detail usually isn’t necessary or expected.

Withholding information becomes dishonest when you leave it out in order to mislead someone. Imagine the following scene…

Your friend suspects that her boyfriend has been seeing another girl named Kara. “Have you ever seen Roger and Kara together?” she asks you. “No, never,” you tell her, but because you’re friends with Roger, as well, you fail to mention that you did see him with a different girl. Not knowing the truth, your friend goes on with a false sense of security.

When someone asks you a question looking for the truth, you can often give quite a different impression by leaving out relevant information...another form of dishonest behavior.

Offering False Hopes

Mandy enjoys talking to Steve and trying to help him with some of his personal problems, but she has no romantic feelings toward him. However, when Steve asks her out, clearly with romantic intentions, Mandy accepts. Why would she lead him to believe that she feels this way about him?

If you’re like Mandy, maybe you tend to give others false hopes because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. You may want to make them feel better or to encourage them at the moment. Or perhaps you simply don’t want to disappoint someone. 

Let’s say your friend Dylan asks if you can help his brother move into his new apartment on Saturday. You know you probably won’t be able to, since it’s likely you’ll have to work that day. But instead of being completely honest, you say, “Yeah, man. I’ll really try to be there. I might have to work, but I’ll probably make it over there at some point.” In your effort to avoid disappointing Dylan, you’ve given him a false hope.

If you purposely offer false hopes to others, they often stop trusting you. Because you gave Dylan the wrong impression, for example, he might not bother asking you for help again. Instead, try telling the truth about the real probabilities of a situation as you see it, rather than leading someone on. If the situation turns out better than you thought it would, then your friend will be pleasantly surprised. 

Expressing False Emotions and Thoughts

Saying what’s on your mind isn’t always appropriate. You probably wouldn’t want to yell out your frustrations, for example, while taking the SAT test.  And sometimes it’s really no one’s business how you feel or what you’re thinking at the moment. If you’re feeling grief over losing your dog and you don’t want to talk about it, that’s your prerogative.

However, failing to reveal true feelings can sometimes lead to dishonesty.

“I’ve always wanted to try out for the spring musical,” your friend confesses. “Do you think I sing well enough?” You know your friend will only embarrass herself by auditioning. But you find yourself smiling and saying, “Why not? Go for it!” How much better it would serve your friend to tell her what you’re really thinking—in a loving way.

“Mind if I smoke?” You shake your head, pretending for the hundredth time that your boyfriend’s habit doesn’t bother you. Maybe you think he should realize how irritating it is and be more considerate. If you never say anything, your resentment will likely build up over time, possibly causing irreparable damage to the relationship. If only you had been honest with him from the beginning, you might not find yourself in this predicament. 

Many times we don’t express our honest feelings and thoughts because we’re not sure how the other person will react. Will he be angry? Will her feelings be hurt? Finding diplomatic and loving ways to tell the truth requires practice (we’ll discuss some of the finer points of practicing honesty in Part 4 of this series.)

So, if you opted not to answer the game question, or even if you did answer it, here’s your dare…

DARE:  The next time someone you trust asks you an important question, be honest. Think about your answer before you speak. Give a complete answer without shading the truth or adding to it. Express your honest feelings, if appropriate. Dare to speak the truth.

Don’t miss Part 2: The Advanced Test: Are you an Honest Person; Truth or Dare.

Written by Beth W. Prassel-Sieg

- OTHER PARTS OF THIS SERIES -

Part 2:
The Advanced Test: Are You an Honest Person?
Truth or Dare: Pro Edition

Part 3:
Game Over: Why You'll Never Win with Lying
The Case for Honesty

Part 4:
Hit Replay: How to Score with Being Honest
Extract Yourself From the Web

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Good habits formed at youth make all of the difference in life. Aristotle