A moral perspective

Circle of Misse visit to Chateau d'OironShould people always be told?  Does someone always have a right to know? Is the truth always better out than in?

If you find something out – something you believe someone you care about has a ‘right to know’ – is it ever better not to tell?  If you hear or see something you shouldn’t have, would you look upon it as your duty to enlighten whoever is being deceived, misled or lied to? Is it ever preferable for someone to be kept in the dark?

And what do you worry more about – the impact on the person you care about, of the news you’re considering breaking to them, or what they will think of you when you tell them? Or perhaps even, what they will think of you if they find out later and realise you knew but didn’t tell them?

I’m being deliberately vague here – I don’t want to tell you why I’m asking or give you any specific scenarios, because I’d like to know how you interpret these questions and what colour and shade you bring to your responses.  It would be great to open up a debate on the question of secrets and lies, and whether ‘to tell, or not to tell’ in the comments.

I have readers of all faiths, and no faith, and from all parts of the world.  Presumably that means a multiplicity of perspectives – and that could be interesting.

So are you up for it?

26 thoughts on “A moral perspective

  1. If it involves two people who are both good friends of mine, I’ll approach the one with the secret and suggest they inform the other before someone else does. If I don’t know both well, I tend to stay out of it. I’ve learnt the painful lesson that very often the messenger gets the blame for the message.

    1. Interesting and thanks for responding, Dylan. Yes, the messenger can end up in the firing line – good point well made.

  2. I think it’s very hard for someone who is not involved in a situation to know enough about it to get to “the truth”, and impossible for someone who is involved to be unbiased enough to know the whole of “the truth”. Whatever we do, our personal views and preferences influence the spin we put on what we’re saying or doing. It’s hard to know whether we have the right to tell, or indeed the right not to tell. Basically, there’s no definite answer.

    1. Another good point – how can we possibly know enough about someone else’s life – even someone we think we know well. And what is ‘truth’. You’re right – everyone brings their own personal perspective. Nothing like this is is black or white and I’m interested in seeing how people see the shades of grey (if that isn’t an overused phrase these days…).

  3. I was the other guy. Debated telling the other guy for a multitude of reasons (some I’m sure I fabricated): he wasn’t good for her (he really wasn’t), it wasn’t fair to him (to make me feel like a better person), I wanted her back now (she dumped me for this guy but said she’d dump him in a few months for me), and likely a few others. It’s been a while and can’t remember. What won out is it’s not my business, I shouldn’t be promoting her cheating, and I walked out without saying anything to him.

    If it’s my information to tell, I usually tell openly, if a little reluctant, no matter the news. It’s better they find out from me than from someone else.

    1. Hi Paul Thanks for weighing in with a first-time comment, especially with a personal perspective too. It’s interesting how we can rationalise why we would tell – or not tell – and how our reasoning cannot help but be biased towards our own needs and how we choose to see ourselves. That’s another good point too – if they’re going to hear about it (whatever ‘it’ is and assuming they are) – it’s better coming from you than someone else.

        1. Yes, I’ll tell you what this is for, once the debate has run its course. But I can’t tell you how it played out, I’m afraid. You’ll understand why 🙂

  4. I agree with May. I think it depends on the situation, which we don’t know from your scenario. But if the person who needs the information is about to take action ( or irrevocably refrain from action) based on a false belief, then there is more reason to disclose. But be ready for blow back.

    1. Hi Perry. That’s a good point – to tell, because decisions or actions are being taken based upon false belief. I believe you’re right, that it should depend on the situation. But I’m also interested to find out if there are people for whom truth and openness is the only option, irrespective of the scenario, perhaps because deep-held beliefs or personal experience leads them in that direction.

      Blow back… yes… and pleading ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ is unlikely to do much good.

  5. I’m sure there are such people for whom truth in this situation (all situations, probably) is the only option. I’m not one of them, but I’ll wager we’ll hear from some in these comments.
    And thanks again for checking into my place. It’s been an emotional week in that universe.

    1. I enjoy your site – and with the latest film and all the publicity, I can see you’re being kept extra busy. I hope you get some time to enjoy the fruits of your labours.

  6. It might clarify things to distinguish between making choices using outcome and procedural values. In deciding what it is best to do you could emphasise the outcomes of your choice. Trying to act so as to make people happier is an example of this approach. With this approach the end justifies the means (e.g. a lie is ok if it makes someone happy).
    Procedural values are things like honesty, keeping promises and loyalty to your family/community/country. As Perry points out for some people sticking to the principle is the thing, even if it has damaging results. ‘My country right or wrong’ or ‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall’ are examples.
    Different people give a different emphasis to the two approaches, and unfortunately the approaches very often point in conflicting directions.
    Personally I try to give greater weight to procedural values. (Though what I try to do isn’t always what I actually manage to do- but that’s a whole other issue!)

    1. Thank you so much for this analytical perspective, deconstructing choice around outcome and procedural values. I wonder if deciding whether ‘to tell or not to tell’ based upon a desired outcome could also be a decision based around values (though not the procedural values you describe). In your example, someone might try to act so as to make people happier (desired outcome) because values such as harmony and happiness were paramount to them. In this case, they might decide that ‘ignorance is bliss’ and withhold what they know. It’s still a values-based decision, as well as an outcome driven one. Or am I on the wrong track?

      1. Sorry- you are quite right. I didn’t make clear that what we see as desirable outcomes are values too 🙂
        On ‘ignorance is bliss’ I imagine we usually say that when we assume permanent ignorance. Somehow ‘temporary ignorance is bliss’ doesn’t sound quite as convincing!

        1. I agree entirely. There’s always the risk that today’s ‘ignorance’ is tomorrow’s ‘why didn’t you tell me?’….

  7. I think it’s important to consider your motivation. Are you going to rat because it’s the right thing to do, or because you are angered by the situation? Is telling this person the truth going to help them more than hurt them? Are you going to be the beneficiary of the fallout?

    1. Motivation is a critical issue, I agree. People are not always honest with themselves about their own personal motivation either. Human nature being what it is, people can persuade themselves of anything, if they need to. For example, might I persuade myself it’s ‘the right thing to do’ because I want to see myself as a person who ‘does the right thing’, or because I’m drawn to the feeling of self-righteousness that accompanies that course of action? Decisions are inevitably laden with emotional baggage, self-perception, moral judgement, personal values, bias and usually an incomplete understanding of the circumstances. That we look back on any such decision, ever, and deem it to have been ‘the right one’ is a miracle!

  8. It is important to be honest with oneself as to motivation here. There is no absolute answer but a starting point is that it is generally best to be honest, but there are questions on timing and manner of delivery of ‘the truth’. It is important to deliver it at a time that is best for the recipient and in a supportive and considerate manner. That would be my starting point. However, there is then the question of whether or not it is on balance best for all concerned that the truth should be delivered at all – I think it should unless it is likely to cause harm or distress. I don’t think personal difficulty or awkwardness is sufficient excuse to avoid the general duty to be honest, but sparing someone else suffering might be.

    1. I agree it’s generally better to be honest, but when the option is not so much a lie, but the absence of the truth, what then? You’re right about timing too – that adds a further dimension, as does the manner of delivery. There are good ways and bad ways of delivering difficult news. Sometimes too, it is hard to anticipate the outcome/consequences of delivering ugly truths or revealing nasty secrets.

  9. I can see folks sitting around a warm fire on a given evening sipping tea (bourbon) with this as the main topic. And who has the right to say anything in the first place? It has trouble written all over it as I learned from experience.

    1. Trouble written all over it… yes, I agree. And that kind of thing – I hope – makes for an engrossing novel!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s