Mike's random thoughts and ramblings

Honesty and Dishonesty

I spent part of the weekend reading Daniel Goleman's new book Social Intelligence - if you haven't got this on your shelf yet, you might as well click on the link there and go buy it now. This is probably the most important book since he wrote Emotional Intelligence in 1995.

I'm sure I'll blog more about different parts of the book in the coming weeks - much of the book provides a genuine neurological basis for many of the social skills that I had planned on talking about anyways. The limiting factor to most success is social, and this book provides a lot of the answers to those questions.

Last night's dinner conversation was about honesty, though. Melina and I got talking about one of the statements in Goleman's book - he states that "the human mind defaults to honesty", which is something I have always believed very strongly in. My wife is a bit more of a cynic than I am, and she has a tendency to believe a little less in the inherent goodness of all people.

So, we got talking about lying, and the question of understanding what the "severity" of a lie is. And we started debating about how you measure a lie. She said that the severity of a lie is related to its potential consequences - that if your lie can be reasonably forseen to be life-or-death, that it's more severe than one that isn't.

I've never been a fan of the "reasonable man" test - it sounds too much like the way that many people in information security assess risk. I call it "Potter Stuart Pornographic Risk Assessment Method" - "I don't know how to define it, but I know it when I see it". (This is the method that advocates of Donn Parker's "Due Care" method of information security practice suggest).

So, if not for assessing some sort of subjective standard of "severity" based on potential damage, what are we left with? How do we assess the severity of a given act of dishonesty?

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Michael Murray

Michael Murray