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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Unburdening Honesty

At the heart of innumerable crises of people lies deceit. Indeed, the very constituents of the original sin were veiled in cunning dishonesty. Yet despite the long-held portrayal of dishonesty in a most unfavourable light, the act itself permeates across all walks of life, from relationships, marriages and competitive sports to the circles of scholars, politics and business.

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But I won’t bother making a critical stand against lying – this should rest upon your conscious alone. Rather, I will be inclined to showcase a fundamental requisite for honesty, without which our entrepreneurial undertakings are bound to bare less fruit and burden our pace of progress with a lamentable invisible afflictions. Our stance is simple yet clear: Present the facts, do not deceive, do not boast or create false-claims. Be honest.

Let us suppose you were inclined to ask: “Why”?

In spite of the vast scope of texts you might think to consult in an attempt to inspire arguments to topple this basic form questioning, I find it both strange and bemusing to find satisfactory resolve in the wisdoms of antiquity’s philosophers.  Aristotle and Confucius alike have put forth notions of regulating one’s life with the good virtue of honesty – and specifically how such governance gives rise to these same virtues in those around us. It is largely upon this symbiosis of sorts that modern research on positive organisational behaviour builds upon. If thoughts from millennia past have grounding to this day, perhaps the debate of this article need not be so complicated after all. But as is customary by this point, it’s time to have a look at the evidence.

Firstly, it would appear that dishonesty breeds dishonesty: a US-based psychological study made to appear like a marketing study had participants complete a survey, based on which they were told they had a ‘preference’ for counterfeit or authentic sunglasses. They were then asked to wear corresponding sunglasses and partake in a number of tasks involving small monetary rewards – as well as loopholes making cheating possible. Unbeknownst to participants, their ‘preference’ was randomly determined, and the glasses across groups were actually identical. When given the opportunity, counterfeit sunglasses caused people to cheat significantly more on these tests, results which were replicated in a subsequent experiment where participants were simply assigned sunglasses randomly without any infringed ‘preference’. Further yet, these manipulations caused those wearing replicas to judge the behaviour of others as more unethical. So, given wearing fakes made people cheat, lie and judge these behaviours as more unethical, the study leaves us with a rather messy bag of dishonesty and hypocrisy. It would appear, that the fake glasses influenced participants’ self-image, instigating what the researchers call the ‘counterfeit self’. This adopted self-deprecating image is what makes it easier to indulge in morally dubious behaviour while also criticising it more vocally. The insinuation is more or less that guilt bears heavy: feeling like a fraud makes you more likely to commit fraud.

Nietzsche has a point which sort of taps into this idea:

“Why do almost all people tell the truth in ordinary everyday life? …The reason is, firstly because it is easier; for lying demands invention, dissimulation, and a good memory.”

The latter half of his claim is particularly interesting, underpinning the cost-effective nature of our mental faculties. Furthermore, while the first claim is more problematic, it too may not be so far off. This is because despite there being reason to believe that people do in fact lie, the trend seems to be hinged towards lying just a little bit (Mazar, Amir & Ariely, 2008). This is supposedly because being caught for a lie is a serious threat towards one’s self-image (if one tends to think of oneself as being honest anyway). However, oddly enough, experiments where participants are placed in a situation with zero chance of being caught, only a minority of people will lie – even if there are benefits to it (Fischbacher & Heusi, 2008). So, at least from an empiricists point of view, the full picture of deceit’s principle framework remains to be unravelled. But where does that leave us?

If there are any key pointers to take home with you, I suppose it should suffice to say that honesty certainly makes your life, and that of others, simpler and just generally more pleasant to navigate. Honesty is a key ingredient of a mutually respectful relationship – be it between intimate couples or business associates – whereas lying, dishonesty and deception will quite literally make your self-respect go down.

At Arctic15, we encourage a full spectrum of honesty as we believe it is the best way to bring value on the table without any of the unnecessary pleasantries and embellished claims. This not only benefits you but the community as a whole.

Stay honest to yourself and the rest will come naturally.



Fischbacher, U., & Heusi, F. (2008). Lies in disguise. An Experimental Study on Cheating, TWI.

Gino, F., Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D. (2010). The counterfeit self: The deceptive costs of faking it. Psychological science, 21(5), 712-720.

Mazar, N., Amir, O., & Ariely, D. (2008). The dishonesty of honest people: A theory of self-concept maintenance. Journal of marketing research, 45(6), 633-644.

Nietzsche, F. (1996). Nietzsche: Human, all too human: A book for free spirits. Cambridge University Press.

Shalvi, S., Dana, J., Handgraaf, M. J., & De Dreu, C. K. (2011). Justified ethicality: Observing desired counterfactuals modifies ethical perceptions and behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 115(2), 181-190.

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Raf is a tall, lanky Finn wandering in the UK academic landscapes. With an MA in Psychology (University of Aberdeen) he's taken his penchant for brain studies a step further by embarking on a MSc in Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. Long-time lurker and contributor at AS, always hungry for fresh story leads in Tech/Espionage/the Absurd.

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