Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

Two Syracuse University students share their different philosophies on speaking the truth.

Honesty might be the best policy for some, but others are perfectly fine with telling little white lies. While science shows that being honest tends to make people happier, does life justify a fib every now and again?

A recent study by Anita Kelly, a philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame, tracked the health of 110 adults. Kelly asked half of the group to tell the truth for the duration of the study period, and the other half were not given any instructions. The participants took a weekly lie detector test and filled out a mental health questionnaire so Kelly could track their progress. 

“When they told more lies, their health went down. And when they told the truth, it improved,” Kelly says.

Syracuse University sophomore Anna Greenberg considers herself a very honest person. “I live a fairly liberated life because I have nothing to cover up,” she says. Greenberg also adds that she doesn’t like to lie because it always comes back to bite people. “It turns into a big web of lies, which gets you caught. And the other person will be extremely mad at you, so it’s not worth it,” she says. 

Being honest makes Greenberg feel relaxed because nothing is kept hidden. When her and her friends went out with boys, for instance, her friends lied to their parents about it, but Greenberg felt too anxious to lie to hers. She says she doesn’t have to worry about people finding out the truth and she usually knows how those around her feel in the moment. She claims that even if she knows the truth will bother the person in the moment, it’s going to hurt less than lying about something and them finding out later. 

Alycia Bruce, another Syracuse student, considers herself honest when necessary, but unlike Greenberg, she’s not afraid to tell a little lie. Bruce has been a gamer for four years and has made close friends along the way. Her parents aren’t comfortable with her hanging out with her online friends in real life, so Bruce lies about meeting up with them. She doesn’t mind bending the truth because she thinks it doesn’t harm anyone. 

“Lying makes me feel good because I am able to do what I want. I do, however, feel guilty that I have to lie to my parents,” Bruce says. “It gives me anxiety and makes me nervous to some extent that they will find out.” When the meet up is over, however, Bruce is happy to have spent time with her online friends and says it’s definitely worth the little white lies she tells. 

Sometimes, telling small lies is tempting, but it may induce more anxiety. Being honest can be difficult, so it all comes down to who can handle the pressure and who can’t. So, if you find yourself feeling anxious all the time, ask yourself if lying is really worth it… honestly.

This was originally printed in Equal Time Magazine’s Fall 2019 print issue. Read it here.