The Honesty Policy

In the first season of Treme' there was a story line in which a young black man went missing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. During the course of the show, it was found that he had been arrested in a case of mistaken identity and died while in custody.

As the season was winding to its end, Melissa Leo, in her role as a civil rights lawyer, tries to convince the man's sister, played by Khandi Alexander, to pursue the case. Khandi's character refuses, on the grounds that her mother, who does not know that there is suspicion of murder, does not need to know that her son's death was possibly a violent one.

Honesty is not always the best policy, she says.

I loved that line for it's sheer audacity. Because if we know nothing else, we know that honesty is the best policy, don't we? Or do we?

Is telling someone an unpleasant truth when they haven't asked the question really necessary?

Is keeping quiet about that crazy night in Vegas with the girls the same thing as keeping quiet about an on-going affair?

Would you rather hear our President say that bombing Iran is not an option we are willing to pursue? Or are you willing to hope that all options are on the table is a political statement? That to say otherwise might play into the hands of political and international opponents alike? Can you live with the possibility that, in some cases, honesty is not always the best policy?

Don't be misled. I have absolutely no insider information that bombing Iran, for example, is completely off the table in the President's mind. I'm certain it isn't in the minds of some of his advisors. It's likely more off the table in my mind than in his.

How does honesty function in personal relationships? In political relationships? In international relationships? I'm not advocating for one position or the other here. But I am convinced that there are times when honesty is not the best policy. The trick is knowing when.

And living with the consequences if it turns out we were wrong.