A long time ago I was in the Boy Scouts (yes, a very long time ago). For several weeks a paramedic came to our meetings to teach us basic first aid. He once told us how he had attended a road accident where a man had sustained serious injuries. When the paramedic arrived the man had already died. A well meaning bystander described how the man had been alive but that he had moved the man’s head to make him more comfortable and almost immediately the man had stopped breathing. He asked the paramedic ‘Do you think what I did caused him to die?’ Because of the man’s particular injuries the paramedic knew the bystander’s action had very likely caused the man’s death.
The paramedic had a choice. He could tell the truth, which would have left the bystander with a lifetime of guilt, or he could lie and say it would have made no difference, the man would have died anyway.
As you might have guessed, the paramedic chose option two. He lied. Nought per cent for honesty but a high score for compassion.
Another true story. A lifeboat crew here in the UK rescued a young teenage girl from drowning. When they got her into the lifeboat she was in a bad way. She looked up at one of the crew and was able to ask him ‘Am I going to die?’ He knew very probably she might, but he said reassuringly ‘No, you’ll be fine’. And as it happened, she did recover.
Sometimes we can be both honest and compassionate at the same time. But what if we can’t? Then we have to choose.
There are many occasions, less dramatic than these, when we’re faced with that same choice. Sometimes being honest might make us feel better, but will it make the other person feel better? Will our honesty be helpful or damaging?
There is an old saying in therapy ‘Start with the end in mind, not the beginning’. In other words, the important questions are what do we hope to achieve by being honest, what are the chances of achieving it, and if we do achieve it will it be worth it?
Have you sometimes told the truth and wished you hadn’t? Or do you think honesty is always the best policy? On the other hand would you have sympathy with the old Buddhist saying: ‘Honesty without compassion is not a virtue’?
Feel free to comment and to follow this Facebook page, all based directly or indirectly on the theme of our book ‘I Just Want To Be Happy’