THE BLOG
11/18/2014 01:30 pm ET Updated Jan 18, 2015

Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

Is honesty really the best policy? Let me ask you this: Husbands, when your wife asks the age-old question, "Do I look fat in this," are you honest with her? By the way, that's a loaded question; there's really no good outcome for you at this point.

What about when your grandmother spends 100 hours knitting you the world's ugliest sweater and she asks, "Don't you just love it?"

Or when your kid makes you a misshapen, puke-green ceramic "bowl" in art class and says, "You do like it, don't you Mom?"

The old adage, "Honesty is the best policy" is stupid; you know why?

Because honesty isn't a policy, it's a value!

I value honesty in people, but I also value compassion, kindness, and appropriateness. Sure, it would be honest to tell your kid that he's no Picasso and that he ought to stick to spelling or arithmetic, but is that kind?

If you're being honest, do you tell your wife that she looks huge in that dress? Sure, that's honest, but is it compassionate? Some could argue it would be compassionate to tell her the truth so she doesn't go out looking bad in public. I'm not married to your wife, so only you know if that kind of thing could end up buying you a few nights on the couch!

I value honesty, but I also value people who have enough sense to know how and when to apply that honesty in a way that does the least amount of harm to anyone.

What I don't value are the people who apply honesty, truth, fairness, and equality on their terms. People who don't want to do the right thing; people that want to do the easy thing, the popular thing, or people that want to take the path of least resistance.

This is easy to do when you view honesty as a policy. Why? Because policies can change over time, with new leadership or new sets of circumstances. They can also change as people change. Ask me, I know; I've been in human resources for nearly 10 years and I've changed lots of policies as our organization has grown or as our workforce has changed.

Think about government! Their policies change all the time. Sometimes it's as fluid as just who in the president's seat at the time. Policies change; values rarely do.

When we have a value system, a way of being in the world, a set of beliefs that guide our actions, we tend to hold onto them as our truth. We use these values to help us make decisions and make choices in our lives.

From the time most of us can remember, we've made choices that help shape our lives. From the little, mundane choices like pizza or a burger, or, paper or plastic, to the more complex, life-changing choices, which job to take, who to marry, kids or no kids.

When we have a strong set of values guiding us, it makes these choices so much easier because we've already established the things that are meaningful and important in our lives.

I do value honesty in my life, and I appreciate when I receive it. I also appreciate when people have enough common sense to apply it appropriately.

While it would be honest to tell your grandmother that her sweater is a hideous monstrosity, you know the sweat equity and love and kindness that went into her creation. Any human with a heart would tell her they love it, stash it back in the box it came in, and wear it once or twice when you see her.

Any man with a heart, a brain, and a desire not to spend time in the "dog house," would tell his wife that she's beautiful, and maybe be brave enough to suggest that this particular dress just doesn't do her justice, or isn't one of your favorites.

And while I'm not a parent, I would venture to say that any parent who wants to build their child's self-esteem would gush about the pukey-looking bowl and find a spot (albeit maybe not the most prominent one) to display their newly-acquired piece of "art."

Honesty is a value that should be taken seriously, applied fairly, and should be a value that you use regularly -- a sort of litmus test for helping you make decisions. Will honesty hurt sometimes? You betcha! This is why you've got to exercise your ability to assess the situation you're in and make the best decision you can based on what's happening around you.

If you know that an honest answer will hurt someone, unless you're in a serious illegal, immoral, or unethical situation that requires nothing less than the blunt truth, decide if and how you can soften your approach to spare someone being hurt.

If you want more policies, go to Washington, they've got plenty and probably more than a few to spare. If you want more values, look inside yourself; that's where the real truth and honesty live.