The different versions of honesty


The different versions of honesty
By Zan Azlee

It would seem that honesty is a concept that, in and of itself, isn’t very honest.

Like any other concept, it needs people to believe in it, before we can actually apply it. And as we all know, anything that requires belief is subjective and can be interpreted in any way.

According to a brief Google search, the basic definition of “honesty” is “the quality of being honest,” which is synonymous with moral correctness, uprightness, honourableness, honour, integrity, morals, morality, ethics, virtue, goodness, probity, worthiness, high-mindedness, justness, fairness, incorruptibility, truth, sincerity, candour, frankness, directness, forthrightness and openness.

So, people would generally understand that honesty is what is stated above. But whether they actually believe in it is a different matter. Most people instead, would try to define the concept in accordance with their own personal context.

Take for example a romantic relationship between a man and a woman (or man and man, or woman and woman, we don’t judge). There would be a certain level of trust that each party would expect of each of other and agree upon, whether explicitly or contextually.

Let’s say that the man has come to an agreement with the woman that he would come home immediately after a work meeting at night. Instead, he comes home at 1am, and the reason is that his colleagues had invited him for a karaoke session.

“Hey sayang, I have to work late tonight because there’s a meeting with some of the bosses,” says the man.

“ Okay, sayang. Please come home as soon as you’re done because you know how you get when you are at a karaoke bar. I would worry too much,” the woman replies.

“Okay. Don’t worry. If anything, I may just sing one song after the meeting is over and then come home. Trust me, I’ll be back home safely.”

“Okay, sayang. I love you!”

“I love you too!”

And when night falls, the woman waits for the man to return home. Midnight approaches and he isn’t home. It is now 1am and he still isn’t home. She calls and texts for him but there is no response. She worries.

The man eventually returns home in the wee hours of the morning and the woman finds out that the meeting ended hours ago, and he had sung 20 songs. She gets angry and accuses the man of being dishonest.

She feels that he is dishonest because he had said that he was going to only sing a single song and then come home. However, he betrays her trust by singing more. And to make matters worse, he doesn’t even text or call her.

The man, however, in his state of blissfulness, doesn’t think he is being dishonest. He told the woman that he was going to come clean to her anyway once he got back, and she should just have trusted him to be fine.

The woman argues that honesty did not just mean him coming clean after doing something. It also means him staying true to his word in the first place.

Which version of honesty is correct? I would have to go with the woman’s version.

Political honesty

Now, let us put this in the context of something more political. Let’s talk about honesty when it comes to politicians and their campaigning efforts.

If a general election happens and politicians run for office, they would need to campaign, which involves outliinge the reasons for their candidacy, and promises to the people in their constituencies.

The people would then have to evaluate their promises and see if they would be the right candidates to vote for in the election. Once they win the election, the promises made during campaigning would have to be fulfilled, or at least to be attempted to with full effort.

Take for example a politician who promises to abolish a certain archaic law in the country and the population agree with him, giving him the win in an election.

They would expect the promise be kept when the time comes.

And when the time came, the archaic law was indeed abolished.

But in its place, the politician decides to make new laws that use different terms to mean the same thing. Would that politician have acted dishonestly?

“Hey everyone. I shall abolish the archaic Internal Security Act because it is archaic and does not fit in today’s democracy,” says the politician.

“Hip hip hooray!” the population cheers.

“Oh but wait. I shall create new laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the Prevention of Crimes Act and the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act,” the politician says.

“Wait…what?”

The politician would argue that he was being honest all along, and never went against his word. Technically, he did abolish the archaic law that he said he would. He just never mentioned that he would create more laws to take its place.

In this situation, whose version of honesty are you likely agree with? Would it be the politician or would it be the people? Which version would be correct?

I would have to side with the people on this one.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

Get Zan Azlee’s latest book ‘JOURNO-DAD: The chronicles of a journalist who just happens to be a dad!‘ today!

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