Honesty is (almost) always the best policy

I'll never forget the day I went in to meet with Ainsley's fifth-grade teacher at the start of the school year. The teacher asked if I had anything I wished to share, and I provided what I believed to be an honest assessment of my then 10-year-old daughter.

"Wow. That was really grounded," she replied.

I was surprised. I wondered if she meant that I was an exceptionally observant parent who had offered a particularly accurate portrait of her child. But I think what she really meant was that I didn't sugarcoat the truth.

The older I get, the more and more comfortable I am with telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Don't get me wrong. I will continue to tell white lies when asked about an insignificant matter (like whether I like my friend's new purse) could cause a breach in a relationship.

And I will not divulge information to individuals who have no business knowing it, even when pressed.

But in most other circumstances, I find being honest is the easiest and most effective way to get through life.

First of all, avoiding the truth almost always has consequences, even if they are not immediate. Remember all those celebrity parents who paid big bucks to falsify their kids' SAT scores so they could get into more prestigious colleges?

They got caught, of course, but I think the attempted falsehood did even more damage to their kids. Telling a teen that you don't think she is good enough to make it without lying, without your help, isn't going to give her the promising future you thought you were purchasing.

Most lies eventually come back to haunt you, often in ways you did not anticipate.

Second, there is the problem of keeping track of the falsehoods you've presented. If I tell a true story to one friend and an adapted version to another, I have to remember which one knows what. And if I tell multiple lies to the same person, I have to make sure I don't contradict myself.

As Mark Twain said, "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."

Finally, and I believe most importantly, the truth will set you free, as first pointed out by Jesus thousands of years ago.

I like Gloria Steinem's take on the phrase as well - "But first it will piss you off!" And I think that's where most of us - or at least I - get hung up. There's a reason it's referred to as "the cold, hard truth." The truth is often unpleasant. It can reveal shortcomings in our personal relationships, in our professional lives and in ourselves. If we pay attention to the truth, we might realize that we aren't doing all we can to be a good parent, spouse, friend or co-worker.

But accepting the truth is the first step to making changes. When we hide from the truth, we also obscure solutions to the problems we are facing. Only with awareness and acceptance can be we prepared to take action to, as the serenity prayer says, change the things we can. And there will always be those things we cannot change.

The truth is not always as unwelcome as this column may suggest. There are glorious truths we encounter that are cause for true celebration.

To read others' reflections on the truth - and there are many - just do a quick Google search of "truth quotes." I'll close with one of my favorites, from Oprah Winfrey: "What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we have."

- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean