Is being honest all the time only good in theory?

“Would I Lie to You? The Amazing Power of Being Honest in a World That Lies” by Judi Ketteler c.2020, Citadel Press $26.00 / $35.00 Canada 272 pages

“How does it look?”

Your client just asked that loaded question, and you don’t know what to do. Truth: it looks awful but you can’t say so. Feelings will be hurt, so maybe you should fib – but a dishonest answer could make things even worse. In “Would I Lie to You?” by Judi Ketteler, is honesty really the best policy?

As a former Catholic schoolgirl, Judi Ketteler had ample chance to learn about lying. It was a sin, surely, but there was more to it than that: she hated when others lied to her, but she knew that she was guilty of lying, too.

And that’s the thing: psychologists say that we all lie, from the lie of omission to the “white lie” to the whole Santa-thing-with-children. We lie to others, and we lie to ourselves.

Judi Ketteler, author of “Would I Lie to You?”

Lying takes many forms, as Ketteler learned when she decided to pay heed and live as honestly as possible. There are secrets, for instance, that are an insidious kind of lie, similar to a lie of omission. There are lies of self-interest and “prosocial lying,” which is a lie told to benefit someone else. There’s “spin,”or lies told to make someone forget about the things the liar has done; withholding and concealing information; and the “fudge factor” that might seem minor, but which is still lying, in the end. No matter what kind of lies we tell, or to whom, researchers say that we lie up to a third of the time we talk with others, and three-quarters of those lies are told to benefit ourselves.

Most of the time, then, we like to tell ourselves that lying doesn’t really hurt anybody, but that in itself is a lie, Ketteler says. She points to politics, and questions of trust that’ve surfaced. Another hurt: polygraph tests show that lying has negative impacts on the body, raising heart rates and blood pressure. At work, it can cause you to lose allies and clients, and maybe even the trust of the person who writes your paycheck…

So, here’s the first truth: “Would I Lie to You?” is a lot more life-story than not.

If you’re prepared for that, then author Judi Ketteler’s words will give you plenty to think about when you’re striving to be as truthful as… well, not as possible, but as applicable, in your work and at home. You’ll see that lying, in a way, can be a kind of grace and you’ll learn how it’s possible to lie nicely here, but you’ll also see that there’s such a thing as too much candor: Ketteler includes anecdotes from her own life and marriage, which are squirmy and just barely relevant.

Still, despite those biographical leanings, there’s plenty of fodder for self-assessment inside this book, and tips to help discern what kind of lie is shameless and what’s downright wrong. Knowing that – and learning ways to remove those habits from your day-to-day – gives this book its strength back. Overall, “Would I Lie to You?” might look pretty good from here.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin