Honesty is the Best Policy: In Life and in Business

Often times, people struggle with the precept (training rule) of “Abstaining from Lying”.

“I am trying to protect others and their feelings”, they say.  “That’s considered a white lie right?”

The kind of scenarios that is often brought up involves saving people’s life from hunters, burglars etc (or terrorists in today’s context?), but in our day to day interaction, how many of us really have to face a gun or knife wielding person?

That’s not to say that it does not happen.  Across the world, violent crimes happen everyday, and many times we have only split seconds to react.  We don’t have the opportunity to ask the possible assailant to sit around for a Dharma discussion or to wait for you to figure out what is the ethical answer to give.  If you do, then perhaps you could try talking him out of his murderous intent.  Or perhaps not!

If it’s me, and I’m asked to disclose the location of a potential murder-victim, chances are, I’ll be mum if there’s a gun or knife wielding person barking at me.  Not because I’m calm and mindful, but probably because I’m in shock!  ha!  Or maybe not.

In any case, if I lied and there are any karmic consequences to it, I’ll gladly face it.  I won’t make any excuses for it.  I’ll be able to sleep at night, knowing that live(s) were saved.

But this is a slippery slope.

Where do we draw the line?  Instead of lives, how about harm?  Or reputation?  Or shame?  Or just embarrassment?

Many times, we can simply ignore the question.  Other times, people may emotionally blackmail us by pulling the “If you are a friend, you would tell me” card.  For me, I would just turn it around and tell them “If you are a friend, you wouldn’t put me in a spot!”.


I’ve shared frequently about how in all my working life in the past, I’ve stuck to telling the truth, even if it meant telling my customers that our company’s product is over-kill for them.  The interesting thing is, it’s probably such a refreshing air of truth, they often do a second take on it.

Some customers do not like it, even if they know that you are simply stating the truth.  They just need you to lie to them, so they can pass on the lie to their managers as truth, and get their job done.  By the time the truth unravels itself, they can always pass the blame to you, or if somehow market conditions change, and things work out, they get the credit.  That’s the truth behind lying in the commercial world.

But more often than not, customers come back to us when they realise that we can be trusted.   One can only lie that many times before we build a reputation of over-promising.

Interestingly, here’s an article from New York Times about lies in the business.


As our conversation drifted from an update of my company to a deep discussion about life itself, I asked him what he thought was the secret to success. I expected the standard “never give up” or some other T-shirt slogan, but what he said took me by surprise. “The secret to success in business and in life is to never, ever, ever tell a lie,” he said.

 So, what do you think?  Is honesty the best policy?  In life and business?

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