19th May 2022
‘Honesty is the best policy’
HOM: Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
One of my favourite Disney movies of all time is Pinocchio. It is also one of the oldest and was made in 1940. The film is based on a much earlier novel, ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’ written by Italian writer Carlo Collodi in 1883.
For those of you who don’t know the story, it tells of a woodcarver called Geppetto, who creates a wooden puppet and names him Pinocchio. Pinocchio’s greatest dream is to become a real boy and the son for whom Geppetto wishes. The rest of the story is a moral tale in which, in order to become a real boy, Pinocchio must develop his own conscience. Becoming a real boy and developing a moral conscience requires among other things, the ability to tell the truth and to be honest. In fact, when Pinocchio lies the nose on his face becomes longer and longer. The consequence of his lies is plain for all to see and even to himself when he looks into a mirror. Honesty really is the best policy, and it is along that pathway that Pinocchio finally achieves the reality he has sought.
This story continues to inspire and most recently the psychologist/philosopher, Jordan Peterson has written extensively about the meaning of Pinocchio in his book ‘12 Rules for life; an antidote to chaos’. Rule 8 is ‘Tell the truth or at least don’t lie’.
So, what makes us lie or be less than honest? Well, we may lie to the outside world to get what we want, to appear more competent or simply to be liked. And then we may lie to ourselves and end up doing things that are inconsistent with our beliefs and values. Pinocchio does both and ends up going along with some other boys to ‘Pleasure Island’, a hedonistic paradise in which he ends up both acting and looking like an ass, the result of dishonesty to himself and others.
According to Jordan Peterson, while all the lying may work in the short term, ultimately you will run into failure. ‘If you betray yourself, if you act out a lie, you weaken your character. If you have a weak character, adversity will bulldoze you’. By failing to react the first time, you’ve already trained yourself to tolerate things you disagree with.
According to Jordan Peterson’s Rule 8, this leads to bitterness. Because you are avoiding pain and fabricating your world, you are likely to avoid personal responsibility for your failures. You will blame the world as unfair, and other people as in the wrong.
Fortunately for Pinocchio, things do work out as he learns to be honest to others and honest about what he believes to be good and true. As he develops a fully functioning conscience, he is no longer a puppet controlled by the strings of inner and outward desires and influences but becomes the real and honest boy towards which he has always aspired.