January 31st, 2016

Is Honesty Enough?

By Ron Nakamoto

Although he's referring specifically to lawyers, Matthew Frederick makes an interesting general distinction between "honesty" and "truthfulness" in the quote below:

"Honesty and truthfulness are not the same thing. Being honest means not telling lies. Being truthful means actively making known all the full truth of a matter. Lawyers must be honest, but they do not have to be truthful. A criminal defense lawyer, for example, in zealously defending a client, has no obligation to actively present the truth. Counsel may not deliberately mislead the court, but has no obligation to tell the defendant’s whole story."

I have some experience dealing with lawyers, legal disputes, and courts and have witnessed how the "truth" can be distorted or obscured through honest testimony (not withstanding the fact that everyone swears to "tell the truth" before they make any statements).

Pondering this distinction further, I think that seeking the truth is perhaps a deeply personal, lifelong spiritual quest whereas honesty is more of a daily standard for ethical conduct. I also think that the distinction between honesty and truthfulness points to an inherent risk of self-deception in relying on honesty alone to guide our conduct. This has implications for us as leaders in our relationships, our families, our work, and our communities.


The Difference Between Truth and Honesty
A look at the difference between truth and honesty, logic, thinking, system integrity, and other skills you learn in law school.

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