Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

The boss was angry.  She just had an argument with a board member.  She then told me not to sign documents the board member forwarded me for my signature.  But I had already signed the documents.  When she asked if I did, I said, “no.”  Meanwhile, I put away the documents in my desk drawer. 

My boss would have gone ballistic if I told her I had signed the documents.  Rather than let her high blood pressure go up, I decided to mislead her. 

Did I lie? 

Roman Catholic doctrine dictates it is “never allowable to tell a lie, not even to save human life.”  Lying is evil and because nothing good ever comes from evil, “we are never allowed to tell a lie.” 

On the other hand: 

However, we are also under an obligation to keep secrets faithfully, and sometimes the easiest way of fulfilling that duty is to say what is false, or to tell a lie. Writers of all creeds and of none, both ancient and modern, have frankly accepted this position. They admit the doctrine of the lie of necessity, and maintain that when there is a conflict between justice and veracity it is justice that should prevail. The common Catholic teaching has formulated the theory of mental reservation as a means by which the claims of both justice and veracity can be satisfied.

Slater, T. (1911). Mental Reservation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 25, 2021 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10195b.htm

We can lie but only if it’s absolutely necessary such that it is for good (“justice”).

The Catholic Church calls it mental reservation.  My Jesuit English teacher from high school called it equivocation.  The more common term is the white lie

An example is a homeowner who gave sanctuary to Jews in his house as Nazi soldiers during the Second World War searched for them to ship to concentration camps.  When the Nazi soldiers asked the homeowner if there were Jews in the church, he said “there was no one here.”  The Nazis left. 

The homeowner did not lie.  He said the Jews were not here which to him meant they were not available.  But the Nazi soldiers took it to mean the Jews were not there physically so they left.  The priest deliberately misled the soldiers.  But he did it to save the lives of the Jews and that was enough to justify the white lie.  The homeowner did not sin. 

But in my case of not telling the boss I signed the documents; the Catholic Church would say I had no compelling justification to equivocate.  No life was at stake, only my career.  My boss would have just gotten madder and I would have had to suffer a long scolding. 

The Catholic Church would say I lied when I shouldn’t have.

In this complicated world we live in, people lie a lot.  The people who lie would say it’s for good reasons.  We don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.  We don’t want to aggravate a crisis.  We want to avoid conflict. 

When my boss cooled off and finally said I could sign the documents, I then took them out of the drawer and sent them, already with my signature, on their way. 

Since the issue was resolved, I did not bother to tell the boss what happened. I rationalised that it would just be for naught if the boss found out, got mad again, and subjected me to a scolding.  The case was closed, that was it. 

The Catholic Church would warn that my behaviour can lead to abuse.  It was already lying, first of all.  Doing it as a habit and excusing it as mental reservation, equivocation, or white lying, and saying it’s for good reason may result in more long-term harm than any perceived benefit whatsoever.

It’s like the motorist who is driving home in the middle of the night and decides to run a red traffic light.  There’s no other vehicle around at the intersection so the motorist rationalises that there’s no harm to disobey the red light. 

Over time, however, the motorist does this more often.  He runs red lights every night and even during the day whenever he sees no other vehicle around.  It becomes a habit that one day, he doesn’t notice an oncoming vehicle and he gets into an accident.  

To many of us, honesty is not always a best policy.  Being too honest can get us into trouble, so we bend the truth.  We spin our speeches, avoid addressing questions, or just plain lie.  We see many people doing it (e.g. politicians, executives) so we believe we can do it too. 

It is true that religions like the Catholic Church give us some leeway to lie.  But it’s more of the exception than the rule.  We should realise the more we bend the truth, the more likely it will break.  And more harm will come than good as a result. 

Honesty is still a best policy, exceptions notwithstanding.

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Six Reasons Why We Don’t Need A Purpose in Life

My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I’m happy. I can’t figure it out. What am I doing right?  –Charles M. Schulz

Do we need a purpose in life?

Many so-called gurus would say yes.  We need to have one in order to have a direction.  A purpose gives rationale to our life.  A purpose gives each of us a unique reason for existence.  

Some of us, however, don’t have a clear purpose. If we were asked and if we answer in the negative, sometimes we would be chastised for not having one and the one asking would insist we have one and we should spend a considerable amount of time formulating one. 

Rather than wracking our brains finding a purpose, some of us plainly don’t need one for six (6) reasons:

First:  We’re not beholden to any person, group, or cause.

Some people say we should have a purpose and the people who usually say this are those who are looking for followers for their own causes.  Religious groups, for instance, have been notorious throughout history for preaching that we all have the purpose of being a follower of their god or gods.  If we follow them, we would be rewarded with eternal life and a place in heaven. Not following would doom us to hell or eternal punishment. 

Political activists also attempt to enroll individuals to their cause.  And similar to religious organizations, they would work hard to convince us to submission. 

Endless streaming of information in the internet age bombard us constantly about causes we should support, if not join.  We should fight climate change.  We should combat hunger.  We should help refugees.  We should change our lifestyle.  We should join a network to get rich.  The messages that pressure us go on and on. 

We aren’t beholden to anyone’s causes or dogma.  We don’t owe anyone anything in the first place.  We as individuals have the freedom to choose what we want or how we want to lead our lives (within the bounds of whatever rules at wherever we live in of course).  We also have the choice of whether we want to have a purpose or not.    

Second:  On the other hand, some of us are really meant to be followers.

Not all individuals are meant to be leaders.  Not all of us want to be leaders.  Some of us would just rather follow someone else. 

This doesn’t mean that we are enrolled mind and heart to the mission of someone else.  We follow because of the benefits. 

Many employees of businesses go to work because they simply need the money and the benefits that go with it.  We do what our bosses tell us to do and we nod when our employers preach about the business’s visions and ideals.  But when it’s time to go home, we leave all of that behind. 

Some of us join religious or political groups because we just want to meet friends.  Some of us like to join groups because there’s free food in meetings.  (I’m not kidding, I’ve met people who go to Sunday church services just because of the free food). 

Some of us join as followers because it makes for a better alternative than to have a purpose of one’s own.  Some people would say these people have nothing better to do.  I would say these people have chosen something they believe gives them the benefits they want.  They may not have their own direction but they did make their own choices.  And maybe that’s all that matters.

Third:  Not everything is certain.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  -John Lennon

There is nothing certain in life.  Tomorrow is another day.  We don’t know what will happen next year, the next day, or the next minute.

We believe in these principles but yet pro-purpose-in-life people still think we should have a rock-solid purpose to determine our direction. 

We can make a purpose that visualizes our values, principles, and goals, and we can write them down in one beautiful statement.  But all it would take is one swoop of reality to tear them all apart. 

Okay, a well-made purpose, according to the pro-purpose people, is supposed to act as an anchor against what life hurls at us.  It should form a foundation of where we stand in making decisions or when we are facing tests and temptations. 

But if we adopt a purpose just for the sake that we think we need one, chances are we would be tying ourselves down to stuff that we are not really interested in the first place. For example, if a person adopts a purpose to do social work for his local community, he might make himself too busy with obligations in his neighborhood that he’d have no more time to travel out of town which might be something he originally wanted to do.    

Fourth:  Life can be just as much fun acting on a whim than having to pursue a purpose

Many of us like to travel.  Some of us change careers every few years.  Some of us like to taste new food or appreciate art.  And some of us just want to escape and be left alone somewhere.   But we don’t do it because we say we are too busy or we don’t have the money.  Sometimes we say it’s because our parents won’t allow us even if we’re already 50 years old. 

We then adopt a purpose to try to define our own direction or escape route.  By experience, it doesn’t work.  No matter how desirable we make our dream via an adopted purpose, a purpose for the sake of finding a way out of our current life offers no respite from the realities we dread. 

We’re much better off acting sometimes on a whim.  I’ve known happy people, young and old, who travel without much planning.  I’ve known happy people who decide to learn a new craft, like pottery.  They sometimes do it with their children and it becomes a happier experience.  And I’ve known families who decide to drop everything out of the blue so they can go to the beach. 

Some people frown when we do things on a whim or for no rational reason.  Travelling for example several times out of the year can be criticized as spending too much time or money from what we should really be doing.  Critics would say we should be doing something more useful for society rather than just gallivant aimlessly around the world.

But being aimless is sometimes good for us. Going to other places, doing different things help us gain new experiences.  And if it makes us happier, then who cares?

Fifth:  Being aimless can lead us to success

A good friend of mine had no clear direction in her career.  She started out as a temporary worker.  Next thing I knew she was in Japan doing on-the-job training.  Someone liked her personality and hired her to come back home to sell software to banks.  After a couple of years, she moved to the United States to work as a web developer.  After another few years, she set up her own audio-visual production business.  Today she helps her local parish church and earns a living as a real estate broker. 

My friend is happy.  She met very good friends from Japan and the US.  She developed new skills and is presently gaining new ones as a real estate broker.  She finds fulfillment helping people at church.  And she is financially secure. 

She didn’t set any limits or boundaries to what she can do.  Her life’s path seemed aimless but that didn’t stop her from pursuing fulfillment by trying new things. 

Sixth: There is no need to be ambitious or that passionate.

Some of us just want peace of mind or are happy with what we have. Some of us just want a simple life without any complications or too many obligations. 

Being too passionate about a purpose can cause us to lose focus on the simpler things in life.  We’d be spending much time chasing something we think we believe in and less time smelling the flowers or just living well with what we have. 

We hear about executives who retire early so they can spend more time with their families.  Many people from Europe allocate weeks or months to travel to Asia and South America to see or experience new places. 

We also hear about ambitious managers who work very long hours to try to get that promotion at work.  Or that environmental activist who risks life and limb to defend a forest in the middle of nowhere. 

Being driven with ambition can actually be good especially if it will end up helping society but sometimes we just have to pause, take a break, and ask if it’s really worth it.  In some cases, it’s not. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying having a purpose is bad.  What I’m saying is we shouldn’t be pressured to have one because maybe we don’t really need one.  No matter what other people say, sometimes we can live without a purpose and still enjoy life and even help society at the same time. 

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