Here is an approach to honesty that has worked well for me over a period of years with co-workers, random people, wives, children, and subordinates.

1. Tell the truth. Don't lie.2. Sometimes the truth you owe people is "That's none of your business."

I have not particularly tried this approach with bosses, policemen, judges, or IRS agents.

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To a virtue ethicist, this doesn't seem like so much of a dilemma. Honesty is a virtue - that suggests that it is the mean between extremes. The value with respect to honesty is truth-telling. Too little truth-telling is a vice, often simply called "dishonesty". However, telling the truth all the time is also not being honest - that would be telling the truth too much. We perhaps call this "being a stickler" (depending on context).

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Lake,That comes across as pretty conventional, much less restrictive than your first comment. I probably just misinterpreted it. Your first comment says that you should honestly answer questions, but doesn't address when it's OK to ask serious questions, which will necessarily reveal information. RH's #3 is probably about about boring, irrelevant, misleading possibilities, but his first two don't sound boring or irrelevant, but they might pick a fight. Sure, they're weird, but I think the cost is more than that.

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I had the same employees (all female) for my entire 30-year practice (I am a heterosexual male). After the first 8 years, I changed from general urology to a practice called the Sexual Medicine Center. The kind, polite, refined Cajun ladies who worked with me went from never saying or hearing anything of a sexual nature in our office, to doing almost nothing but that for the next 22 years. Because many of the patients (all male) were unfamiliar with medical terms, these women both heard and spoke terms, to and from both the patients and me, such as "hard on", "come too fast", "lump in my dick", and all the others you can imagine. The concept of sexual harassment apparently never occurred to them. The ladies cried when my injury caused the practice to shut down, but we still see one another periodically, because we all enjoyed our work environment. Is it possible that you're finding only what you're seeking in the workplace?

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"As to #3, how would you feel if you knew that most women, attractive or not, were thinking about you in a sexual way most of the time, but not saying anything about it? And if you knew that most men were not thinking about sex most of the time?"

Evelyn, with the advent of often draconian hostile work environment law, a woman can stop a guy from making any reference to sex (or anything even close to it). But there is no way to prevent guys from thinking whatever they like. And your words, "attractive or not" make me think it would be ok if an attractive person thought about sex, but it's highly objectionable if an unattractive person thought about it.

That reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit which purports to be a preventing workplace sexual harassment video. The lessons: Be Handsome. Be Attractive. Don't Be Unattractive.

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I'm fond of the old saying, "Just because its true, doesn't mean you have to say it."

That especially applies to #3 where, if you're not going to have intercourse, why bring it up and suffer the probable demerits? And if intercourse is a reasonable possibility, then honesty ("you are attractive, I wish to have sex with you") is not going to achieve your objective, unless its a prostitute, so you better deploy some game.

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"The hypothesis is that habitual honesty can be reasonably mistaken for dangerous madness?"

Diogenes of Sinope found it so. Why would it have changed since?

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The hypothesis is that habitual honesty can be reasonably mistaken for dangerous madness?

I cannot immediately rule that out as a fair description of a common belief, nor even whether it is a fair heuristic for most. I do fear for our species.

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This is the first time I've been cast as an ambassador for normality, but I'll try my best.

Honesty per se isn't unpleasant. But it can be if, along with telling the truth, one is being boring, or puzzlingly irrelevant, or if in saying one's piece one also appears to be doing something else - making a pass, picking a fight or whatever. And in general, failing to observe the norms that govern truth-telling will make one appear unusual; perhaps mad; perhaps dangerously so. It should go without saying that most people prefer not to deal with the dangerously mad.

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Lake,I think you are very different than the other commenters on this thread. Probably you are more normal. I think you could teach us lot, if you expanded on your comment, but I have no idea what more specific to ask you.

Of course I have access to even more normal people, but it's hard to get them to admit that honesty is peculiar, let alone unpleasant.

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In fact, honesty is only laudable under a certain narrow range of circumstances:

1) If someone asks you a question directly and it is apparent that they want to know the truth.

2) If telling some truth will predictably cause better outcomes for yourself or others than failing to tell it.

Honesty without either of these justifications generally seems peculiar and unpleasant.

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Being honest does not require abolishing a sense of discretion. People do not generally care about the minutia of other people's thoughts, and your thoughts are no exception to this. Some things are better kept private, as well - possibly because expressing them could cause embarrassment or pain to others, possibly because they're no business of anyone else's and making them public creates an unwelcome intimacy.

Unless the women in question suddenly wish to know how you think of them sexually, or find themselves in a situation where their interests are legitimately dependent on knowing the nature of your private urges, they do not need to know, and you don't need to inform anyone of them. This is not dishonesty. It's simple consideration for their feelings and a respect for both your privacy and theirs.

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Are you suggesting women don't think about men sexually?

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To those commenters whose life experience is that they can't be truly honest with their wives, I'm sorry to hear that.

It is my experience that very honest partnerships are possible, though not with everyone.

I believe that me and my wife do have one; we are very similar to begin with, and so don't feel like we have any unpleasant truths to hide from each other.

For example, alluding to #3, me and my wife are both horny fuckers, sometimes casually attracted to other people outside our relationship. So we talk about it, we often act on it, and it's worked out nicely.

I really do find that, not having to hide your instincts from your partner, makes for a more harmonious relationship.

Alas, this does not help if, 20 years ago, you married someone you're not fully compatible with in that respect, and now you want to maintain a happy marriage.

I find that it is a general truth, with everyday acquaintances, and for some, also with partners, that mundane dishonesties help us avoid dwelling on how incompatible our value systems are, and help us focus instead on what we're trying to achieve in the given moment.

In recent years, I've had no problem being brutally honest with people. I have indulged in telling them what I think about things they value, as well as when I was sexually attracted to them. I find that this is a knife that cuts both ways. It polarizes. It helps you identify and get together with the few you are compatible with, but this comes at the expense of damaging fragile relationships with others.

True skill is to be provocatively honest at times to identify potential compatibilities, but otherwise follow the protocol with others, so that you can get things done.

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As to #3, how would you feel if you knew that most women, attractive or not, were thinking about you in a sexual way most of the time, but not saying anything about it? And if you knew that most men were not thinking about sex most of the time?

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What is honesty? I think a lot of, for want of a better term, "nerds" are caught up in the old idea that language is used to express thoughts. They therefore wonder why people don't communicate everything that happens inside their head. I think it's more appropriate to consider language a form of expression. Use of language is more like writing a story than accurately communicating your private thoughts. "Thoughts", for the most part, are a form of rehearsal anyway. We constantly rehearse the things we're going to say, going to write, ways we're going to present ourselves, etc. Our thoughts are just rough drafts of the bullshit we're going to tell people. Some people have wilder imaginations than others and more often rehearse things that are inappropriate to every day situations. It's not a big deal. "Honesty" is really conforming to certain implicit social commitments and not communicating every thought one has or everything one sees. The latter is just weird.

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