Note: this post is in addition to our regular Tuesday posts. We hope to be able to provide more of these bonus “improve your writing” posts in the coming weeks.
Lies damage one’s reputation more than anything else, but today I am going to focus on a smaller, more common way that ordinary people like you and me damage our credibility.
We often qualify statements either written or oral with “honestly,” “frankly,” “to tell you the truth,” etc. when we shouldn’t. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, so to clarify let us examine for a moment the speech of a foppish young socialist named Caesar (a fictional person who is about to have a brief moment of fame before being forever forgotten).
A reporter is asking Caesar about his views on a certain financial policy, and Caesar says, “Honestly, I think it’s a capital idea!”
Notice Caesar qualifies his statement with “honestly.” What’s wrong with this? Well, what Caesar implies with this word is that at other times he is not being quite as honest. He is implying that when he does not say “honestly,” “frankly,” etc. that his words don’t hold quite as much weight.
I witnessed a sterling real-life example of this problem at an information session when I was visiting colleges last year. The speaker, a very pleasant-seeming student, was giving families a rundown of what the university was like. When he began talking about the cafeteria at the school, he said, “The food here is awesome. I mean, I’m from way down South, so I know what good food tastes like. Look, I would not lie to you about this–the food here is great.”
As he said these words, a question entered my head: what would he lie to me about?
This is an extreme example, I know, but it illustrates my point: we shouldn’t use words that will potentially detract from our perceived integrity. We shouldn’t be “more honest” in our speech at some times than others. We should be honest at all times so that we don’t have to use these nasty qualifiers…
honestly, it damages our credibility!