23 October, 2006

A Question of Ethics

This is a bit of a departure 'round here, but it's something that's been on my mind...

I believe that honesty is almost always the best policy. In my opinion, the only areas that are open to debate are matters of life and death or things such as, "Does this make my butt look big?" directed at a significant other (personally, I think the response should be something like, "I think you're incredibly sexy, but I think I've seen other clothes on you that show off your butt better than those pants/skirt/jeans do." But when I ask something like that, I'm usually looking for an honest answer because I want to look my best).

Anyway, what about things that aren't little white lies? I value my integrity and the (relatively few) times I haven't been able to look myself in the mirror, I've found that the lie just gets compounded. And I tend to be of the theory that lying in one area is indicative of the ability/penchant to lie in another. It's not that I'm truthful because "you'll go to hell if you lie." Rather, I believe it is part of an ethical way of life that allows me to respect myself and to interact with others in ways that ultimately get me what I want--both professionally and personally. In short, I try to be an ethical person, and truthfulness is part of good ethics.

I'm not talking big giant lies here... just things like fudging income taxes, mildly embellishing work history, or even pretending to have a background one doesn't have in order to be considered for a job that is reserved for a particular type of person.

No, though I'm starting to get financially desperate, I'm not considering lying to get a job (not only does that make me respect myself less, it's a recipe for disaster). But I'm somewhat surprised at the people I know who think I should "lie if it's necessary."

It makes me terribly uncomfortable that friends are encouraging me to lie. To those who want me to lie, I think the following questions in my head: 1) Just how low is your expectation of my character--i.e. what kind of loyalty and honesty do you expect me to show you if you want lying to be a part of my character? 2) If you are telling me to lie, how much/often do you lie? 3) If lying is a non-issue for you, how can you expect me to trust you? 4) What are the standards by which you decide when you will and won't tell the truth? And if you have no consistent belief in the importance of being truthful, how do I know you will apply your when-to-tell-the-truth standard consistently?

Am I overly idealistic, naive, or acting as if I'm morally superior because I refuse to join those who tell me to lie? Are my standards in this area for myself and others unreasonably high? Are there really so few honest people in the world? And if so, why should I trust anybody I haven't known about half a dozen years, at least?

[Friends, be advised that in many ways I'm playing Devil's Advocate here, but I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on this subject.]