From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 11 – The complications that arise when we tell the truth, and a look at some exceptional situations where we could lie
Is it ever possible to be too honest? Sometimes it is, in a certain sense. Problems can arise for honest people which are the result of inexperience, lack of wisdom and the inability to handle delicate, finely balanced situations. We can find that both honesty and wisdom are needed in combination, but that we have only got honesty, not wisdom.
This problem affects very few people, because not many are honest enough for their honesty to become their problem. Usually it’s the other way round. However, there is a small minority of people who spend a lot of their time and energy fretting over what they can and can’t say and do, i.e. in terms of truthfulness.
This problem is called ‘scruples’ . It means the burden borne, and the problems experienced, by those people who think very deeply about their duty to be truthful. For them lying is not an option. But such people still have to manage to get through their lives as best they can without upsetting people, causing turmoil, betraying secrets and mishandling fiduciary responsibilities. Achieving all of those objectives is far from easy.
One of Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet ministers was a man called Sir Keith Joseph. He struggled a great deal with questions of conscience. He used to go back and forth in his mind, questioning himself about the rights and wrongs of his proposed actions and whether they could be justified ethically. Such things mattered to him enormously and he was tormented by it all.
In fact, many feel that he would have become leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 rather than Margaret Thatcher had it not been for the way he agonised over the ethics of the decisions he had to take and the duties he had to fulfil. He suffered in ways which 99% of other politicians never did because his conscience was so highly developed and so important to him.
I sympathised with Sir Keith Joseph because I too have often struggled to know how to handle complex situations where I don’t feel comfortable in my conscience with any of the options available to me. In some ways I have envied those who did not share my problem with scruples. I have known many people who found it easy to brush aside such concerns, without any difficulty, let alone torment. Yet, I would still not choose to be otherwise.
Such difficult pressure points are one of the inevitable side effects of having the love of the truth. At least they are until you reach a very high level of wisdom and maturity, which I haven’t yet managed to arrive at. However, it is better to have the love of the truth, and to face these difficulties, than to be without these problems, but not have the love of the truth. In other words, it is a price worth paying.