Harriet: “Where would you like to eat?”
Polly: “Wherever you want.”
Polly: “Sure, sounds good!”
And off they go, Harriet excited about the place at which they’ve chosen to eat, and Polly not nearly so thrilled. From the conversation alone, it seems that both parties are happy with dining at Wendy’s, but Polly has kept her true feelings hidden. Polly was hoping for anything other than a fast-food burger/sandwich joint, but, to avoid disappointing her friend, she has readily agreed to eat at just such a place. Polly would probably argue that her actions are a result of politeness. Oh sure, perhaps she’s too polite. Perhaps she lets people walk all over her sometimes, but it’s all because she’s sooo nice. Nice to a fault, as some might say…
But what might others say? That Polly is a liar? The case could certainly be made, but would it merely prove a desecration of her altruism? Or is Polly really acting selflessly to begin with? Could it be that Polly’s “politeness” is selfishness in disguise? Could it be that Polly’s willingness to eat at Wendy’s is a sign of pride?
I struggle with being honest when it comes to making decisions that influence other people. I don’t want to let people down, and I genuinely believe that Polly could have a similar motive. But, when we “lie” in order to appease others, is our concern merely how that person will feel? Or are we trying to avoid feeling awkward ourselves? Are we seeking to give to the other person, or to prevent that person feeling less-than-pleased with us? I think that, in these situations, we are very often motivated by our own insecurities, rather than by the generosity or love we may feel for the other person. After all, don’t we already feel somewhat uncomfortable in those situations? And aren’t we trying desperately to limit the extent of that feeling when we seek to keep the other person happily oblivious? We employ dishonesty in order to preserve our friend’s momentary perspective of us as a good natured and jolly person to be around. But doesn’t that sound a bit like pride?
One might say that Polly prefers eating at Wendy’s to denying her friend the opportunity to do so. In that case, so the argument would go, Polly is making a genuine choice that correlates with her situational preferences. Thus, she is being honest. But this only holds if Polly sincerely feels there are only two options available to her—eating at Wendy’s or denying her friend’s happiness. But nobody can rationally assume this, and the same goes for all of the trivial, day-to-day examples that I wish to call into question. Sure, there’s a time for self-sacrifice, but to claim that an instance of choosing where to eat (or what movie to see, etc., etc.) is such a time is ludicrous. And so it seems we pushovers have to admit, sometimes we’re just too prideful to stick up for ourselves.