Article Date: 8/1/2013

Lessons Learned
lessons learned

Honesty Is the Best Policy?

The truth can be respected… or the start of a lawsuit.



“Do you have any weaknesses?” asked Dr. Need-staff while interviewing a job applicant.

“My only weakness is honesty,” replied the prospect.

“I don’t think honesty could be described as a weakness.”

“I don’t give a fiyin’ flip what you think!”

Solving a problem

Obviously honesty is not always the best policy. Sometimes problems can be solved by a little dishonesty. The late Sam Levenson used to tell a story about how his mother handled an awkward situation when relatives came to visit, and had accepted an invitation to stay for dinner:

“I told them we had plenty of food,” she told me and my five brothers. “But we don’t have enough chicken, so when we pass the chicken, I want you boys to say you don’t care for any.” Even though we were ravenous, we obeyed.

“Now,” she said at the completion of the meal, “we have pie for dessert, but everyone who didn’t eat their chicken, can’t have any pie.”


Self protection

Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, as far as honesty is concerned. The great Dr. Irv Borish once told me of a time he figured it best to lie. He and wife Bea were on a tour of Italy. He was late getting to dinner one night and there was not a vacant chair at his group’s table. So he sat at a nearby table which had an empty space.

“The folks at the table introduced themselves to me,” said Irv. “All of them were of Arab nationality. When they had finished the introductions, one of them said, “I take it you are Italian?”

“‘Yes!’ I told them hastily. I figured this was not the best group to tell I was Jewish,” he laughingly told me.

Is it boring?

Explaining things honestly can also be boring. I once examined a lady who told me that the reason she had come to me was that I had done such a marvelous job on her mother.

“After you treated her, her eyes gradually improved to where she could read without glasses!” she said. Ethically I should have told her the truth, that it was her mother’s incipient cataracts that had caused this, and thoroughly bored her with a five minute boring explanation. But I instead blushed modestly, and humbly murmured something to the effect that her mother’s vision might have come back even without my remarkable skill.

You can’t win ’em all

Another consideration with honesty is that at times you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

“My new glasses are fine,” a patient told me, “but the right lens in the sunglasses seems blurry.” We checked and discovered that, sure enough, the lab had mistakenly made it with a 1.50 cylinder, rather than 0.50.

“The lab made the lens wrong, but it was our responsibility to catch the error. I do apologize for our negligence,” I told her.

“I appreciate your honesty,” she said. “I once had an M.D. make an obvious mistake, but he wouldn’t admit to it. I lost all respect for him.”

So I wrote a column for Optometric Management on how it proved honesty is the best policy. A few weeks later I received an email from an O.D. in Missouri:

“Thanks a lot! I followed your advice, and admitted a mistake to a patient. She is now suing me for malpractice!” OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 48 , Issue: August 2013, page(s): 66