Is it Safe to be Honest?

by Alicia Ni'Tracy

[Nat’s article on this topic: “Truth May Not be the Whole Truth, But that Kind of Truth May be Best“]

Why don’t tenants always present their complaints to their landlords?  Why don’t landlords tell their potential tenants everything they know to be wrong with the property?  Why don’t politicians do during their terms what they promise during their campaigns to do, often deliberately and unapologetically doing the exactly opposite?

Sometimes people tell the truth.  Sometimes people tell lies.  Sometimes people tell nothing.  The amount they tell of each reflects on their levels of honesty and communication.  Some believe that the truth is fixed and unchangeable by our perception.  Others believe that the truth is completely determined by our perception.  A huge number of us (maybe all) have no idea what is truth and what is not.  We don’t have a set definition of truth that everyone agrees on.  There is the truth of reality and then there’s each person’s perspective.

Rather than delving into a metaphysical discussion here and now, I’d like to focus on what determines whether people tell the truth.

By my observations, people only tell the truth if they feel safe doing so and they feel it will benefit them – or, at least, again, do them no harm or less harm than lying or being silent would do.

If a landlord perpetually denies the tenant any maintenance services, regularly increases the rent and ultimately doesn’t communicate unless the rent is late, why doesn’t the tenant file a lawsuit?  The answer may be that the tenant can’t afford court fees after paying their food expenses and rent each month, and suing may yield no improvement and therefore be a waste of resources.  In such a situation, why bother?

Why doesn’t the tenant move?  The answer may be the tenant knows there is little chance of finding a decent landlord in the same price range.  The tenant may move into a new apartment with a new landlord just as negligent as the previous one.

Why doesn’t the tenant, after eventually getting fed up and moving, tell the whole world about the landlord’s irresponsible behavior?  The answer may be that there is no widely accepted forum for disclosing that information.  The tenant may tell a few friends, but that doesn’t get the message to the broader tenant population.  If the tenant speaks up publicly, he or she runs the risk that future landlords will learn of the tenant’s boldness and refuse to rent to them.

And yet, if the tenant does not tell the world the truth, the landlord certainly never will.  There is no imperative for the landlord to change their behavior if there is zero accountability, which means that continuing to lie gives the landlord the most benefit.

We can’t force people to start telling the truth when it could be dangerous for them (i.e. the tenants who truly cannot afford to move or pay higher rent, so have no power to tell the truth).  However, what we can do is to endeavor to create safe forums for truth-telling, in as many places as we have sway.  We can tell each other, “It’s okay for you to tell me the truth.  I understand that it’s your opinion.  We can work to understand each other, work together and compromise.”  This may be far more important a skill to develop than forcing ourselves to always tell the truth even in situations which feel scary for us.

We can tell our landlords, “It’s okay for you to tell me the truth.  We can work together.”  We can tell our politicians, “You can tell me the truth.  If you can’t ‘solve the economy’ by yourself in a single 4-year term, we need to know so we can know how much we need to do.”  We can tell our employees, “I’ll listen to the truth you tell.  If you believe I’m mistreating you, I need to know that if I am ever to know how to treat you well.”

– Alicia Bryan

21st Century Innie Person

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2 Responses to “Is it Safe to be Honest?”

  1. Yes, but is it honest to be safe?

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