Reciprocity, Integrity, and Truthiness


A few weeks back I provided an outline of what I take to be the three basic characteristics of a transparent environment. I gave the three characteristics the following names:

  • Clarity
  • Single Version of truth
  • Two-way Street

I later added Integrity as the fourth and perhaps most crucial characteristic. I am put in mind of this list by one of the comments on our piece last week about a company that sells fake job references to people with criminal records and others who have a hard time getting a job:

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. If someone lies and gets a job isnt that the same as most first dates? If the marriage lasts for 30 years after that then, as we say in Texas, “what the taxman needs to know is all he needs to know”. If employer and employee have a long a fruitful relationship then who cares?

I find this to be a pretty compelling argument, actually — up to a point. Whether you’re talking about yourself on a first date or you’re word-smithing your resume in an attempt to land a really good job, the desire to put your best foot forward is bound to lead to some statements that are, if not outright lies, at least a little on the “truthy” side:

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After all, if you tell a first date or a prospective employer something that ought to to be true about you, that you feel in your gut really is sort of true in a deeper sense, a sense that doesn’t have as much to do with facts as it does with…well, with you getting what you want…what’s wrong with that?

Evaluating such an approach using my list of characteristics of a transparent environment, major problems emerge around items three and four. When what you have to say is defined primarily about what ought to be true, rather than what actually is true, you pretty much have to give up on Integrity. After all, what “ought to be true” is going to change dramatically from day to day, if not from moment to moment.

But the big stumbling block here is going to be reciprocity, the notion that sharing information should be a two-way street. On that first date, how truthy do you want the person you’re with to be with you? How about after you’re married (using the example the commenter made?) If your spouse consistently tells you what ought to be true — from the gut! — is that good enough?

And consider the same question about your employer. Do want to know why you’re being paid at your current rate, why you got passed over for a promotion, why your position is at risk? Or would you be satisfied simply to know what the boss thinks the truth should be?

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