Insights into Psychology

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Honesty?

Is there such a thing as too much honesty? - graphic of triangle-shaped honesty word cloud

Honesty is the best policy, right? I say no, no, no, no. And let’s add on one more no, just for good measure. I would also like to propose two kinds of “honesty”, only one of which I think actually involves honesty.

First, you’ve got things that can be answered or described objectively. Let’s say I ask you if I have any lettuce stuck in my teeth? Unless you don’t have a clear view of my dental situation, that’s a clear yes or no answer, with no room for interpretation. You might not feel comfortable mentioning the lettuce, but if you don’t, I’d say that qualifies as a lie. A white lie, but a lie, all the same.

Then you’ve got opinions, which are inherently subjective. They don’t have any objective, literal truth to them; they’re just chitter chatter inside our heads. We’re all judgmental, and sometimes those judgments are pretty yucky. Embarrassing yucky. I don’t want to be the person that thinks these things kind of yucky. And that’s okay… as long as it stays inside your head. Inside your head, it’s just a thought. Outside your head, it could be you being an asshole. There’s no need to inflict that on the world without a good reason.

If your partner asks your honest opinion about whether the outfit they’ve got on makes their butt look like a hippopotamus, there are a few things to consider in that honesty. Whether their butt looks like a hippopotamus, a rhinoceros, or a blue whale, do you like that butt, whatever size it is? Are you hoping to get with that butt later tonight? Or ever again, for that matter? So maybe, what’s honest is that you love that butt, and even more than just the butt, the rest of the person that’s attached to it. Do you really want to be the asshole that criticizes the outfit that’s attached to that butt you love?

On the other hand, toilet paper attached to one’s shoe or clothing visibly tucked into underwear is a fully objective situation, and you’d best be bringing it with the honesty (and if you don’t, you might be losing access to that butt).

Keeping certain things to ourselves is the social lubricant that makes the world go ’round. We all have our moments when we look ugly, act stupid, and are a massive pain in the ass—possibly separately, possibly all at the same time. That ‘s part of being human. We’re all 100% likely to have each of those moments at some point in time, but society works because most of us are sensible enough to keep a lid on it instead of calling people out on it. Except on social media, of course; then it’s just a shitstorm.

And this honesty about opinions nonsense? That applies to your inner chitchat about yourself too. Self-judgments are opinions, and they don’t deserve any more airing than the hate-on you’ve got for your neighbour’s mullet (and airing that hate-on might just get your ass kicked).

So, the next time you think about being honest, consider, is this a toilet paper stuck to shoe scenario, or an I like big butts and I cannot lie scenario? Think it over, and adapt your actions accordingly.

38 thoughts on “Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Honesty?”

  1. I do believe in honesty and I have my badges in psychology, therapist ,so yes I have alit of knowledge mental health but I want people to know I’m not better than they are I do stil do have my episodes and I would love to answer questions but cause I struggle doesn’t make me less than no one else

  2. I completely agree!! I’m an open book, but I don’t think anyone else needs to be. I’m against honesty in matters of tact, matters of self-protection (like, “Hey, are you gay?” and “None of your business” would imply an answer, so the better answer would be a flat-out lie of “No”), and… when’s the third time I wholeheartedly approve of lying? Trying to remember… hmm… definitely if you’re protecting someone else’s privacy (like anytime my mom sneakily asks me about my brother), but that wasn’t it… hmm… oh well. Yeah, I don’t see honesty as a virtue except in certain ways, obviously, like if you lie to your fiance about just how your three previous wives died under mysterious circumstances… (“They had cancer!”) So wrong. And actually, the Ten Commandments don’t say not to lie, they say not to commit libel or slander. (But I’m sure the Bible says something elsewhere about lying, you’d think…) Very interesting blog post!!

    1. I agree, other people’s secrets aren’t ours to tell. But yeah, the three wives with the mysterious “cancer”… that definitely calls for more openness.

      1. I used to love this hilarious movie called “So I Married an Axe Murderer”! Oh my gosh, no spoilers, but it was hilarious. 😀

          1. I don’t know if I’d still recommend it since it’s been so long since I’ve seen it! But I loved it back in the day, I know that much!!

  3. Needs-based relating can be applicable here. What needs of your own would you be meeting with your “honesty,” and what is the likely impact of your “honesty” on the recipient of your “honesty”? If your honesty is going to not meet someone else’s needs, then maybe meet your own needs a different way, such as telling someone else whose needs it will meet or telling your journal.

    Playing hot potato or pass the buck puts negative energy into the universe

  4. I believe in a balance, which takes some mindfulness. I’ve known people who’ve lied about everything and they suck. But people who need to blurt out everything they feel all the time can suck too. You simply don’t need to say cruel things that help no one!

  5. In my old age I’m thinkin’ honesty should be confined to legal matters. I hate social white lies – what difference does it make whether I like your new hair cut? Or your new coat or anything at all that is your personal expression of yourself? Please don’t ask me! And then there are those situations in life where being honest isn’t going to change anything for the better so why bother chiming in with YOUR honesty.

  6. I’m ridiculously judgemental in my head, but on the outside I wouldn’t dream of being brutally honest. I don’t know if the latter is a good thing or a bad thing 🤔

  7. It is sometimes hard to know when to be honest and when not to. I think when someone is in seek of genuine advise, then it is important to be honest. But when the honest comments come off as rude, then I think it is probably best to keep those thoughts to ourselves. Or if we know that the truth may really hurt someone, and not really be of any benefit.

    1. With giving advice or things that might come off the wrong way, I think it can help to be tentative with it, like “maybe you could try X” or “have you thought about trying Y?”

      1. That’s a good idea, and sometimes I do say things in that sort of way. But sometimes I fear that I may be coming off as patronising, though that’s probably just me worrying.

  8. I see your point with this and I have to say it made me laugh while reading it 🙂 Well done. I especially enjoyed the part about opinions. My word people love throwing around unsolicited advice sometimes. And while I know most have the best of intentions, it doesn’t always help. Whenever someone starts a sentence with “this is just my opinion but…” I instantly tune out. Lol.

  9. I would actually love it if someone were honest enough to tell me if I looked bad in my dress. I don’t want to be with someone who feels like they have to walk on eggshells around me. I’ve always been pretty forward with people though, and I like getting the same back

    1. I think there are a couple of things that would make a difference to me in that situation. One is if someone is saying the dress looks bad (e.g. “tie-dye doesn’t belong in this decade”) vs. I look bad in the dress. If it is more along the lines of I look bad in the dress, I would prefer if there was an alternative suggested (“you look hot in dress B”).

  10. I think you could split it in two: 1 = subjective (does my bum look big in this) and 2 = objective (did you steal my money). I think some people accept subjective lies but not objective ones. Interestingly, the subjective lies could be down to guilt of ‘seeing’ it that way, wanting to hide that you do; and wanting to protect the other person from being hurt by you – or self protection that you don’t want them hiring you back!
    To me, honesty equals authenticity. And I do think honesty can be delivered so carefully (like a skilled therapist) or cruelly like a bull in a china shop. We were always taught in uni to deliver a criticism sandwich, start off positive, end with positive, and fill the middle with a bit of honest challenge for needed improvement!
    But I like how you differentiate between honesty with the lies we tell ourselves in our heads, which we may not always even be aware of telling ourselves, and actually deliberate lies to cover up something we don’t want to be found out in.
    It’s a really interesting topic!

    1. Yes, there’s a lot to think about! And yeah, I’ve heard of the criticism sandwich, but one must be careful not to venture into shit sandwich territory. Perhaps that’s where some of the skill comes in of therapist vs. bull in a china shop.

  11. Ok, so what happens when you are asked a question … that is tricky and you really don’t want to answer the question because it could cause upset, so you play it down and then you are hard pressed to be really, truly, madly and deeply honest with your response and let’s say the question is very similar to the Hippo question. If you lie you are damned and if you are honest you are damned as well How do you then answer objectively and honestly? [Asking a friend and not because of an incident many moons ago with my now ex-wife – that’as just coincidental]

    i am too honest, if l lie or bluff, it is easily spotted.

    Peop[le say they want honesty but the truth is, most people really don’t – they want a form of lip service.

    My mother recently asked me to be brutally honest with her and l tried , l tried so hard to not be, because she is 80, and as much difference as there is between us, l really don’t like upsetting people and yet l couldn’t dodge that bullet. she has not bothered to speak to me since.

    Sometimes bloggers are too honest and think they are being funny, l have had this happen to me twice in the last month and it is very taxing.

    All this aside Ashley, an excellent thought provoking post.

    1. Hmm, sometimes it seems like there’s no winning when it comes to the honesty balance. Sometimes the hippo is just going to trample you regardless of what you do. And apparently, they do trample people, including doofus tourists that get too close to their territory in the evening…

      1. Hahaha, yes, yes they do … l prefer to be honest with people, sometimes [a lot actually] it can land me in hot water, but if l try to lie, l somehow don’t do well at that either.

        Now if someone says … I want you to be honest, l usually answer back with – are you really sure about that??? Because l will be brutally honest with you, so please make sure what you are asking of me?

        I offered that to my mother last week … mm.

            1. It’s one of those things, she should not have told me to be honest, but the questions were those that you just couldn’t lie about and sleep well that night knowing you had lied.

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