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Art & Culture

various essays on, well, art and culture

Bookbinding & Conservation

lessons learned from this profession


ok, I'm not the guy from SNL,
but I still have a sense of humor

'Jim Downey' Stories

mostly true stories from my

Personal Essays

No matter where you go . . .
So I wander into this nuclear
        reactor . . .

Thoughts on This Day
The Power to Forget
Announcing:  Alwyn!
Martyr Complex
The Call
The Reality of the Situation
Comforting Presence
Guilt & Redemption


Iím at -7.13/-7.33 on The Political Compass.  Where
are you?


observations on the human condition


take a trip with me

Published in Legacy Online, October 2003

Being truthful, when you know it will cost you, is the true test of honesty.
-- David Weinbaum

Recently, someone lied to me.  Well, actually I assume that people lie to me all the time in the normal course of life, but this was one of the instances where it was a relevant issue.  This wasn't someone I met on an airplane who was inflating their life history, nor the barber saying that he thought the haircut he just gave me looked great.  This was someone with whom I was involved discussing a tricky business problem that relied on each of us trusting the other.  The lie was concerning a minor issue, but it almost led to a complete breakdown of our discussion, since it cast everything he was saying into some doubt.  We got past it, but still it hurt this fellow's credibility with me.

I'm painfully honest.  Well, now I am.  In my youth I was capable of 'tellin whoppers,' as my grandma used to say as she reached for a switch to correct that behaviour.  In my early adulthood I took the attitude that I'd tell the truth to people who deserved it, let the rest of the world fend for itself.  But I came to realize that even those offhand lies were corrupting, and a threat that I needed to excise.  I'm certainly not perfect in this regard, and still too easily resort to white lies in some social situations when pressed or when in a hurry.  But I try and avoid those instances, and have a set of carefully-worded statements that I can use with comfort, being both honest and inoffensive.  It makes me a little more boring at parties, but I sleep better at night.

I think that honesty is also smart business.  It would be so easy to tell lies at the margins, tell people that they would be better off doing this additional thing when having book conservation work done, or adding in a third mat for that frame job.  But we earn the trust of our patrons when we tell them that the extra treatment isn't necessary, or that adding in that extra mat just means more expense.  Hey, someone wants to do something that I think is hideous, I won't volunteer my opinion, but neither will I lie to them and tell them that I think it's beautiful.  In fact, Iíll usually try and steer them toward a good design . . . if nothing else, I want to be comfortable with the fact that they're going to be telling their friends where they had the framing done.  And if they know they can trust us to give them honest, solid design advice, they're more like to come back or recommend us to others.

Sure, being truthful sometimes costs.  But I think it pays over the long term.

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all work © James T. Downey, 1993-2006
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-2006
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