Archive for the ‘Honesty’ Category


At the beginning of July, I was approached by a company to write a post recommending their company to you. First of all, I thought that was a little strange, since I’d been on something of a hiatus for, oh, two months or so. I inquired further none the less. It would seem I asked too many questions, because they stopped talking to me. I now oblige them in their request (and don’t worry, this one is free of charge).

The site was National Payday. Payday loans, for those who don’t know, are very short terms loans (usually issued one pay day to be collected on by the next). Unfortunately, the quick approval process is balanced by truly atrocious interest rates (I’ve seen them worked out at nearly 200% annually). Get Rich Slowly has more on that.

What really makes me laugh, though, is the sweet-talking spin Darell put on their product when he e-mailed me. “Most of our customers are making ends meet on a small budget and require short-term loans and may not even qualify for more traditional loans.” I fail to see how taking advantage of people falling on hard times is admirable. What good is it to be able to pay off a credit card if the loan you take out has ten times the interest?

Regardless, here’s a simple lesson for you, dear reader: Any company which has to pay people to say something nice about it, is a company you don’t want to do business with. In the case of payday loan sharks, I would call them evil, vile, and disgusting.

There you are Darell. I hope my brief post was not too “vilinizing” for you or your company. And as I said, it’s on me.


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On March 24th, I started a project to attempt to be completely honest and to avoid gossiping. The gossiping aspect has been slow going. It’s insidious, and it’s hard to even realize that I’m doing it. The honesty aspect, though, has been a lot more interesting for me.

It turns out, it’s typically fairly easy not to lie. Really important, difficult subjects just don’t come up very often, exactly because they are difficult. When most people ask you about is how your day is going, or if you’ve signed up for classes, there isn’t much incentive to lie.

One situation that hasn’t come up for me, but which I’ve worried about, is what to do if I get in trouble. Quite often, a small lie can cover a small mistake and save you a lot of trouble. However, in such a situation, I would have to be honest, and take the consequences that come with it. The closest I have come to that has been in photo, where I have had to answer for my artistic decisions (and, in one case, inability to complete a project) honestly. It turns out, at least so far and with this professor, that honesty is productive. Nothing bad has come of it, but I’ve learned a few things and made better work.

Another situation, though, that continues to bother me is the relationship between silence and lying. I decided at the beginning of the project that omission was only lying if it was meant to deceive. The alternative, put forward by Radical Honesty, is that you should always speak your mind, even if your opinion isn’t asked for. I still feel like they are a bit too extreme, but that perhaps my definition is too loose. So many big subjects go undiscussed, it really is easy to skate by for the whole project (perhaps most of your life) without having to be honest when it is hard, so long as you keep your mouth shut. A.J. Jacobs noticed it too, in his book The Year of Living Biblically, which inspired this project. He spoke to an Amish man who was, apparently, good, honest, compassionate, but also very quiet. Jacobs wondered if speaking less was simply the best way to avoid speaking poorly.

What to do about this?

I’m not sure. My gut is telling me there’s an element of social subterfuge going on here, that there is something to be said for “being honest with yourself.” Even if I’m silent, maybe I can still lie. And maybe I need to grow a pair and speak up.

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Well, today marks my first day freed from my secular lent obligation to not eat fried food. (Technically, yesterday was, according to my official sources.) I feel good. Surprisingly, I’m not rushing out to buy a big plate of French fries.

My mom used to tell me that it takes three weeks to get into a new habit. I’ve been telling myself not to even consider fried food for about six and a half weeks, so I suppose the habit is pretty well established now. The biggest change I’ve noticed is that my list of food options has been reordered. Places I had never tried are now up near the top of my list.

Do I miss fried food? Yes, but not as much as I expected to. The first week or two was really hard. I wanted a nice plate of fries so badly, especially if someone else had them. However, after a certain point of ignoring a craving, it goes away. Or perhaps I was just learning to meet the craving in other ways (mashed potatoes, etc.). Either way, I’m not counting down the minutes till I can munch on fries again, but rather am wondering how much I want to go back to eating fried food.

I think I will, but more responsibly. Fried food, and fast food especially, wont be a go-to option. I want to limit my fry eating to places with really good fries, because eating nutritionally deficient fast food fries seems like a waste. As for other fried food, it will become reincorporated, but cautiously. I’ve felt a little better without it.

That said, I will be happy to leave behind the constant worry that I would eat something wrong. It makes me really appreciate the devotion of people who adhere to food regulations for religious or personal reasons. I can’t maintain that level of worry over food for very long.

With that project behind me, it’s time to start my next one. I’ve briefly mentioned the idea before, but here’s the plan:

From March 24th to May 8th (40 days by the Catholic method of counting, which does not count Sabbaths), I will abstain from lying and gossiping.

It sounds daunting. Luckily, I have some friends joining me. My parents and roommate, for sure. Possibly some others. If you’d like to join as well, I encourage it! It wont be easy, and probably we will all slip up some times. Come tell us about it! And I’ll do the same. Those are learning experiences.

I’m officially on the clock as Mr. Honesty. So far, a few hours in, I have to say… it doesn’t feel all that different. I expect that will change though.

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In considering and planning my upcoming abstinence from lying and gossiping, I’ve come across a few things that have me worried.

First, as soon as I started reading A.J. Jacobs talk about honesty in The Year of Living Biblically, I worried that if I did it, somehow people would know, and they would abuse the circumstance. Leave it to Jacobs to confirm my worries; near the end of the book, his wife begins to periodically tease him by asking “What are you thinking?” which he is now bound to answer honestly. The lesson: people are mean. Of course, I’m not helping myself by spreading the word about it, but I suppose dealing with that circumstance (if it arises) is part of the challenge. So bring it on (gently)!

Second, nagging questions about what constitutes “lying and gossiping”. I think lying, in this sense, is anytime you deliberately say something you know to be false, or you omit something with the intent to deceive. Gossiping is a little tougher. Is any sort of talk behind someone’s back gossiping? Or is it only gossiping if you speak poorly of them? Poorly by whose standards?

I’m also deeply worried, with no good reason, that I’ll face a situation where being honest would require gossiping about someone, which is just confusing.

Either way, the project starts Monday, when I’ll say a little something about my secular Lent experience and the new project. Tomorrow is Fun Friday, and then enjoy the weekend!

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In The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs mentioned a book called Radical Honesty, which, it turns out, is part of a larger site and organization. In the book, he quoted them on the thrill of being completely honest (worthy of an amusement park ride). I don’t have first hand experience with the level of truth telling they mean, but I’m sure they’re right. On top of that, honesty seems like it should be good for you in many ways; building more open relationships, less stress, avoiding the repercussions of being caught in a lie.

I’m currently in the middle of a secular Lent (fasting from fried food), but I’m considering giving up lying (as well as gossiping) for a while after Lent ends on the strength of Jacobs’ story. (Amazingly, I’ve gotten a handful of people to join me to varying degrees, but more on that closer to Easter.) However, as with my fried food fast, trying to remove something from my life raises a lot of questions, some of which Radical Honesty has tried to answer.

My first response when I started to consider the project was, “I don’t really lie that much,” but the more I think about it, the more I catch myself doing it. A.J. Jacobs had the same experience; once he had to stop, he found he did it constantly.

We are always telling some kind of story, building a case for ourselves and trying to put on a best face… in a nationwide survey titled “The Day America Told the Truth,” 93% of Americans admitted that they lie “regularly and habitually” at work and 35% admitted they have had or were currently having an affair which they were keeping secret from their mates. -Radical Honesty

What exactly then constitutes lying, for those of us who would like to quit? Radical Honesty takes a pretty extreme approach; they suggest more then just truthfully responding, but actively speaking your mind, even as far as telling an ugly person they are ugly. He suggests this is a chance to start a deeply open conversation, I suspect it’s a good way to get a black eye. Jacobs takes a less stringent approach, and one close to my own thoughts. Flat-out lying, big or small, is wrong. Lies of omission, when done to deliberately mislead, are wrong too (but no one will call you a lier if you forget a little detail of a story by accident or because it really doesn’t matter).

Of course, the important thing is the effects of being honest. Radical honesty promises a lot. Maybe they can deliver, I’m not sure. I do believe, though, that it can lead to better relationships (even when those relationships fail, but thats for another post), and a general sense of having done the right thing. Don’t most people feel at least some guilt when they lie? Besides, as Radical Honesty points out, the consequences of honesty are often less frightening then we imagine.

People can actually get furious at other people and get over it in 15 or 20 minutes. People can avoid being angry at someone else for 10 or 15 or 20 years, and if they actually got angry at them, they’d probably get over it in half an hour. -Radical Honesty

A friend of mine gave me similar advice about small children: it’s hard but sometimes you have to make them angry for their own good, but don’t worry, because they get over it. I think Radical Honesty has a point here. In the long run, it’s better to be honest and make them upset. If the relationship someone doesn’t mend, then it probably wouldn’t have been worth the effort of holding it together with a million white lies. At the same time, the possibility exists to have a much more open, beneficial, and ultimately strong relationship without the need to posture, exaggerate, and lie. And that seems like the sort of relationship that would make you pretty happy, at least most of the time.

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