Eric Nord voted up this answer.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
-- Richard Feynman
(on Cargo Cult Science)
It’s Good to be Honest
Being honest with others means that we set out to say only what we sincerely believe. And there are many benefits to being honest.
- We only have to keep track of one version of reality. And this leaves our brains free to work on interesting creative problems instead of keeping track of what we said to whom.
- People will trust us more.
- We can be more confident in social situations, because we’re not worried that people might compare our discordant stories with each other, and root out our lies.
- We can throw better surprise parties. Let’s face it, not all lies are bad. If we save our lies for times when we can use them as a force for good, they’ll be more effective. We might someday want a loved one to believe that we’re just “having a quiet evening at home.”
However, . . .
. . . Telling the Truth Goes Well Beyond Mere Honesty
In order to be honest you merely need to be sincere. And you can be sincerely wrong. In order to tell the truth you have to have the truth. And putting yourself into the position to actually have the truth, and not just think you have it, is a difficult matter that requires openness, vigilance, and humility.
If we set out to tell the truth to others, we have to first make sure we’re not fooling ourselves about how much we know.
Here are some of the things we must be willing to do if we want to tell the truth to others:
- Question ourselves and how we came to have the beliefs we have. We all started life with no opinions at all. Then we grew up and acquired opinions along the way. How did this happen? Was it a reliable process? Or did we just adopt the views of those around us uncritically?
- Change our minds often. We must reduce the confidence we have in a belief when contrary evidence comes to light, or when we realize we don’t have a firm basis for believing it.
- Actively look for evidence against our view, and seriously consider whether we might be wrong.
- Learn about cognitive and motivational biases and try to correct for these biases in our own thinking.
- Look at issues from every relevant point of view we can think of to see if we might be missing something -- especially on complex normative issues.
- Try not to overstate our confidence -- especially publicly, because we know that once we’re on record with an opinion it’s difficult to change course even when we’re wrong.
- Learn just a smidgen of statistics so we can be appropriately skeptical when interpreting the results of scientific studies.
This is hard work.
And it means, if it turns out our views are not as well grounded as we might have hoped, that we might have to give up, or at least withhold judgment about, some of our most cherished beliefs.
It means we might have to back away from some of the beliefs our friends and family desperately want us to hold.
Is it worth it? Maybe. Consider . . .
The Benefits of Telling the Truth (Over and Above Merely Being Honest)
Here are some of the benefits we receive when we make an effort to go beyond mere honesty, and strive to put ourselves in position to "tell the truth":
See question on Quora
- We are less likely to fall for scams simply because we want them to be true.
- We get to understand the world a little closer to the way it really is.
- We get to understand ourselves a little closer to the way we really are.
- We come to realize how much we don’t know, and this allows us to revel in some profound mysteries.
- We become more curious and interested in filling in the gaps in our understanding.
- We come to understand issues more deeply, because we’ve explored them from many angles.
- PLUS . . . we get all the benefits of merely being honest as well.