William Liao

November 12, 2021

Tell the truth

In his book “Lying”, Sam Harris makes a compelling case for why we should always strive to tell the truth.

Here are three takeaways and some supporting quotes from the book that I think are relevant to consider at work and, frankly, all other aspects of life. 

  1. It is simpler to tell the truth
“Honesty is a gift we can give to others. It is also a source of power and an engine of simplicity. Knowing that we will attempt to tell the truth, whatever the circumstances, leaves us with little to prepare for. We can simply be ourselves.”

“Honest people are a refuge: You know they mean what they say; you know they will not say one thing to your face and another behind your back; you know they will tell you when they think you have failed — and for this reason their praise cannot be mistaken for mere flattery.”

2. Relationships and cooperation require the truth

“Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship.”

3. The truth is required for full autonomy 

“By lying, we deny others a view of the world as it is. Our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they can make — and in ways we cannot always predict. Every lie is a direct assault upon the autonomy of those we lie to.”

“When we presume to lie for the benefit of others, we have decided that we are the best judges of how much they should understand about their own lives — about how they appear, their reputations, or their prospects in the world. This is an extraordinary stance to adopt toward other human beings, and it requires justification. Unless someone is suicidal or otherwise on the brink, deciding how much he should know about himself seems the quintessence of arrogance. What attitude could be more disrespectful of those we care about?”

For all these reasons, I think it’s far simpler to tell the truth — even when it feels like the hardest thing to do.