Digest of terms


Even though the incidence of lying is commonplace, the importance of telling the truth is universally acknowledged, across almost all societies and cultures. If this were not perceived as a desirable norm, the fabric of personal and communal life would be in jeopardy without it. Still, while honesty is regarded as a virtue, its too rigid observance can become a form of moral fanaticism. Tacit admittance of this comes in the notion of the 'white' lie, where the prima facie duty of honesty yields to what are thought to be weightier considerations in the circumstances, e.g. kindness. Moreover, telling the truth to someone may involve some degree of 'translation'. Some words, when reported literally, can be heard as destructive when not originally intended to be. In this respect the person telling the truth does well to anticipate how its substance can best be conveyed in order to be rightly heard.

In religious traditions, the importance of truth-telling is the more attractive where God or ultimate reality are understood as at the root or source of all truth. Misrepresentation is therefore a distortion not only of the interests of others, but of the very being of God and what matters most in life.

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