Honesty Is the Best Policy
"I want an iron-clad lifetime contract, along with a full wipe-the-fucking-record-clean pardon for any and all prior acts. I know you don't trust me. The beauty is that you don't have to. Nothing I can possibly do will make shit worse than it is already."Your dad corners you about your having chopped down a cherry tree, a key step in your Evil Plan. What do you do? You tell him everything. You have the feeling that honesty will not derail your plan. Differs from a Sarcastic Confession in that a Sarcastic Confession is when someone says the truth in a sarcastic tone, as if to make you think he is lying. This is when you tell them the truth with a straight face, and yet you are confident that it will not set you back. Differs from Just Between You and Me in that it is an intentional revelation that hinges on the person being unable (or unwilling) to do anything about it, rather than triumphant gloating to an endangered hero. The finest examples of this trope have things set up in advance so that the person to whom you've confessed will actually advance your plans if he acts on the information you just gave him. See also Sarcastic Confession, Just Between You and Me, Cassandra Truth. See Honest Axe and Secret Test of Character for when the character really is just being honest and not Genre Savvy.
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Anime & Manga
- In Naruto, Kabuto is confronted by Kakashi, and Kabuto all but confirms that he is working with Orochimaru, after which he manages to escape Kakashi unscathed. Later, he is berated by a fellow conspirator, after admitting he intentionally revealed that information.
- In Beelzebub Himekawa tells Oga that he's hanging around an upstart gang to infiltrate them so Oga will leave, and then assures the gang that Oga's such an idiot that it will work. As you can tell from the place on this page, Himekawa was actually telling Oga the truth.
- At the end of Watchmen, Veidt reveals his master plan to his fellow heroes after carrying out the most extreme part, confident they won't try to undo the beneficial effects of his crime. They don't. Or do they? The one fellow hero that does want to undo it, Rorschach, gets killed, but his diary is picked up by a newspaper... A small-press paper known, if at all, for racist and anti-Semitic views.
- The protagonist of Dragon Age The Crown Of Thorns can somehow pull this off even when he's setting up plan after plan plus a Zero-Approval Gambit on the side. He also manages to make people believe whatever he wants, like Trian being dead when he isn't yet still avoids lying by phrasing his words as questions and hypotheses. That said, every one of his direct statements can qualify as Brutal Honesty.
Films — Animation
- Tinkerbell tries this in Peter Pan when she flat-out admits to Peter that she tried to have Wendy killed by the Lost Boys. However, she wasn't exactly successful in the "not getting punished" part.
Films — Live Action
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Captain Jack Sparrow will often mix complete truth in with outright lies when manipulating people, which tends to make others surprised when they find out about the true parts.
Norrington: You actually were telling the truth.
Jack Sparrow: I do that quite a lot. Yet people are always surprised.
- While the Aesops Fables that actually teach that "honesty is the best policy" are well-known, there's another, hilarious one in which someone tries to be Genre Savvy in this way and it backfires. Two men get kidnapped by apes and hauled before the ape king, where they see he's set up a whole court for himself with all the trappings of actual royalty. The "king" asks each man in turn what they think of him and his court. The first one sucks up to him about how magnificent he is, and is set free. His friend figures that if that's what you get for lying, the reward for telling the truth must be even better, and tells the ape he looks like a idiot pretending to be a real king and that he's not impressing anyone. The king naturally orders him executed. The moral of this one seems to be, "Don't go overboard."
- There is a joke about a family of rednecks with three sons, who get told the Cherry Tree legend by their father, who then asks which of them knocked down the family outhouse. One son, inspired by the legend, steps forward and admits to the deed... and gets paddled for his trouble. When he complains, "But George Washington's father didn't punish him for chopping down the cherry tree!" the father replies, "George Washington's father wasn't sitting in the cherry tree when he chopped it down!"
- In Dragon Bones, Ward does this several times. When forced to explain the presence of Oreg, who has a strong resemblance to the Hurog family, he tells people Oreg is a ... "cousin", the known euphemism for "bastard offspring". This is true; Oreg is indeed a bastard son ... of a long-dead ancestor, generations ago. Ward's strategy for lying is to always stay as close to the truth as possible. Another example: When he asks for the help of a nobleman, Ward mentions that he needs to be absolutely honest, as this particular noble hates liars, and wouldn't help him if he lied. He knows it is better to admit he had been Obfuscating Stupidity than to continue doing it, and risk being caught.
- Moist von Lipwig of Discworld pulls this off in Making Money, utterly derailing a court case against him by publicly admitting that he is a former con man who was recruited by the Patrician. It throws off the otherwise unflappable 351-year-old zombie lawyer questioning him.
- The page quote comes at the end of the Xanatos Gambit the protagonist spent all of Caine Black Knife finagling into place. Caine has just royally screwed the Board's plans up. Their two choices are: reward him for sabotage and murder of one of their number by giving him a total pardon and more authority and free rein than they gave to the guys sent out to catch him, or permanently lose access to Overworld and possibly risk Overworld's most powerful empire marching over a portal with dragons and warmages to blast Earth into submission. Caine is happy to unveil all the details because he's not afraid to die and they have no alternatives.
- In the Xanth, by Piers Anthony, demons are infamous, not for being liars, but for being 100% honest at all times. They may not tell you the whole truth, but they'll never just make something up, because a single truth will often be far more devastating than a thousand lies.
Live Action TV
- In Firefly, Saffron's husband walks in on her and Mal, while she has a gun pointed at Mal.
Saffron: Durran, this isn't what it looks like.
Mal: Unless it looks like we're stealing your priceless Lassiter, 'cause, that's what we're doin'. Don't ask me 'bout the gun, though, 'cause that's new.
Durran: Well, I appreciate your honesty. Not, you know, a lot, but...
- In the pilot episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Coulson decides to earn the trust of Skye, resident anti-government hacker activist, by injecting his fellow Agent, Ward, with a truth serum and locking them in an interrogation room. Subverted when it later turns out S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't have a truth serum at all, its left ambiguous as to how much of what Ward revealed while pretending to be under its effects was actually true and what was made up.
- JAG: This trope is a recurring theme on the show and is brought up in several episodes. The resolution of the eight season episode "Need to Know" is a good case in point. However, the twist is that there should be honesty among the Americans, but maintaing a false facade towards the others is okay.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a reversal of the Ape Court joke in the Folklore category. The Vogon Captain reads his tortuously bad poetry to the captured heroes (who he previously threatened to have spaced) and asks them what they think of it. The two go at length about how good it is, noting the clever use of made-up poetry conventions. Once they're done, the Captain says they were completely wrong, and that his poetry being tortuously bad was actually his intent, to put other people in same bad mood that he's in.
- Magic: The Gathering: When they meet for the first time in Agents Of Artifice, Nicol Bolas gives Jace Beleren a pretty frank explanation of how he lost control of the Consortium and his secret attempts to take it back. And then when Jace asks "Why are you telling me this?", he further explains that it made for a magnificent diversion to get him to let his mental guard down, and immediately launches a telepathic attack.
- Doc Scratch of Homestuck is overt about this— he tells people on many occasions that he never lies, and has never been seen actually contradicting that statement. As a near-"omniscipotent" being, he can see the entirety of any conversation or interaction (with a few "dark spots") prior to the actual initiation of the conversation, and sees no reason to lie to people about things he knows they are going to do.
- In The Order of the Stick, the Inter-Fiend Cooperation Commission invoke this when offering Vaarsuvius a Deal with the Devil: they present their offer up-front without any Jerkass Genie Loophole Abuse, saying that "Contracts are for people with something to hide," and even suggest an alternate course of action to nudge V towards the deal. However, they (but not V) know that the alternate plan is unworkable, they tactically omit that the deal lets them borrow V's soul while V is still alive, and they imply that the Soul Splice can affect V's alignment so as to discourage V from taking responsibility for V's actions during the Splice.
- The first-season Gargoyles episode, "The Edge", where Xanatos reveals the entirety of his Gambit-of-the-week to a VERY irritated Goliath, as part of a second plan that has nothing to do with the first... and succeeds.
- Also, the second-season's "Eye of the Beholder." Xanatos's "Plan D" consists of telling the Gargoyles "I fucked up, I need help." And that's the one that works. The "avoiding punishment" part comes in that the Gargoyles not only help him save his fiancée, but don't seek retribution on him for unleashing the crazy monster she'd become on the city in the first place. Their reason? He's discovered love.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode Equestria Games, when Spike thinks he can light fires with his mind and tries to do it again, Twilight takes him aside and explains that she lit the torch for him instead of letting him keep thinking that he has psychic powers or something. If she hadn't told him the truth right away, he would probably have gotten himself into big trouble somehow. It does make sense since there's already been at least two episodes this season about the importance of telling the truth, and one was right before this one.
- Subverted in 2027. Being honest with Magnus in the game will prevent him from fighting you at the end, except when he wants you to retrieve the Amita, being honest about stealing it will have him kill you. Very much averted with the Human Horizon Agent in Paris. Telling him who you are will have him try to kill you.
- Averted in Pizza Tycoon, being open about your intentions to buy weapons or bribe officials will have you arrested.
- Zig-zagged by Kerrigan's first conversation with Mengsk in Brood War: "The only thing I can assure you of, Arcturus, is that without my help, you'll be the Emperor of your own little eight by eight cell for the rest of your life." But earlier she had mentioned that she didn't want petty grudges to get in the way of her plans for the UED, which was a lie.
- Oh, she was 100% truthful about that. Once her plans for the UED have come to pass, on the other hand...
- In 1960, Israeli Mossad forces kidnapped Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann from Argentina. Though the covert operation did proceed (more or less) as expected, the contingency plan if Argentinian police intervened was to disclose everything.
- University courses on the study of propaganda often note that the most effective propaganda is that which is true, as it leaves no chance for someone pulling the thread.