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Beware the Honest Ones

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"Me, I'm dishonest. And a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It's the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they're going to do something incredibly... stupid."

Even in a series where the characters aren't traditionally good or evil, there will be one who is an idealist. Perhaps they seem to have a strange compulsion to help others even when it isn't convenient, or perhaps they live by a set of principles. From the point of view of the others, that character will be completely untrustworthy; everyone else can be depended upon to act in their own self-interest, but nobody can predict the idealist, especially when they decide to uphold their ideals over their own apparent self-preservation.


This trope is a hallmark of Lawful Neutral characters of Type 2 and 3, as well as Chaotic Good characters, and is a major contributor to their frequent Flanderization into Lawful Stupid.

Compare Knight Templar and Good Is Dumb. Contrast Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Matsuda from Death Note. He's honest and idealistic to a fault, and more often than not makes a nuisance of himself. However, his attempt to infiltrate the Yotsuba Group provides vital information, even though it backfires, and when Light Yagami reveals himself as Kira and starts gloating, Matsuda is the first to whip out his gun and start shooting. This is, incidentally, something like the true inverse of Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work — the closest surviving thing to a good person does the shooting.
  • Suzaku of Code Geass — because of his idealism, he acquires a major case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
    • And Euphie, ultimately, but it's not her fault! This world was made for Magnificent Bastards. To break themselves against, like Cuchulain fighting the sea, but at least they have a shot.
    • Mao, as well, tries to be as honest as possible, and he can see through anyone's lies because he can read minds; but he's a very dangerous villain.
    • Lelouch frequently has this happen to him actually. He can typically work around it but he does often get frustrated when he runs on cold hard logic only for someone else to opt for the idealistic choice no matter how counterproductive it is instead.
  • Tenma from Monster is deemed untrustworthy by his director for choosing to operate on the patient who came first, as opposed to the patient off of whom he'd profit more.
  • Nao Kanzaki starts the Liar Game described accurately as "Foolishly Honest," meaning she expects everyone else to be just as honest as she is by nature. As the Game progresses, however, Nao begins to prove herself perfectly capable of deception, and manages several Crowning Moments of Awesome through it. In fact, her lies have frequently relied on people being aware of her honest nature, since no one stops to think she might be lying. She also makes use of her honest nature to become a Magnetic Hero, as she's the only person in the game who can be trusted to not have ulterior motives.
  • Tamiya attempts to wrest back control of the Lychee Light Club from Zeera once the group approaches the Moral Event Horizon. Very fittingly, his epithet is "Bullet of Truth" and he is often shown as the most obviously upstanding member of the nine.
  • Hakuryuu from Magi: Labyrinth of Magic is honorable, started the story as very naive and his Djinn describes him as "painfully honest". He's also a Knight Templar with Black-and-White Insanity who only cares for his last remaining sibling and is unable to leave his hatred behind.
  • In Record of Grancrest War, Siluca's upbringing in an academy full of backstabbing, greedy assholes made her capable of dealing with any social situation...except conversations with country boy Theo. His Love Confession is actually hilarious because of this — you can see Siluca going through her mental toolbox and coming up short. Though after taking a minute to think, she shows that she can be honest about her feelings too.

    Comic Books 
  • More than once, Batman has had to keep facts from, and even lie to Superman or the other members of the Justice League, because he believes they are too idealistic to do what sometimes needs to be done. Notice that he never looks down on them for being that way (Depending on the Writer). More often than not, he values their idealism, but since he sees himself as already damaged goods, he combines Silent Scapegoat, Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work, and I Did What I Had to Do.
    • It's often implied that Superman knows this... and Batman knows Superman knows this. The lie is mostly to satisfy the rest of the league (Superman may dislike Batman's tactics, but he trusts that Bruce knows what he's doing and where to draw the line; however, if this became public, it might give license to less careful heroes to imitate Batman). Superman not acknowledging Batman's less savory tactics means the disagreement never spills into more public setting. Similarly, Batman will make it painfully clear to anyone who catches him in his lie and threatens to report him (thus making it an issue) that Superman probably already knows and hasn't done anything about it. If someone as honest as the Big Blue Boy Scout is cool with it, then it's cool.
  • While Wonder Woman's (usual) insistence on truth, trying to reform her enemies, and taking down her opponents without killing them fits right in with the heroes she spends time with, they're not the only ones she interacts with, nor is Earth the only realm she operates on. To gods and monsters, her motivations and behavior are much more likely to be upsetting, confusing, and surprising.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Nico Robin in Blood Man Luffy is only mildly surprised when Luffy invites her to join his crew and she accepts on the basis that he's likely stronger than Crocodile whose protection will expire once he takes over Alabasta. However, she's completely blindsided when Luffy neither threatens her nor makes any sexual advances, especially when he brushes off her insistence he doesn't have to worry about her. She can still get hurt, so he's still gonna worry about her like he does for all his friends.
    • This is something of a recurring theme that no one knows how to deal with a pirate who's a complete Nice Guy. It even forced Tashigi to have a Heroic BSoD when she started wondering how many pirates she threw in jail were good people like the Straw Hats.
  • Tonks messes up one of Dumbledore's plans in Dodging Prison and Stealing Witches because she refuses to give in to The Needs of the Many, stating that you should fight for what's best for everyone equally rather than sacrifice the one to save the many.
  • Euphemia terrifies politicians in Code Geass: The Prepared Rebellion because she's determined to root out corruption in Area 11 and can't be bought off. Since they can't comprehend the idea of an honest politician, they assume Euphemia can't be bought because she's already been bought and waste time trying to figure out who bribed her and what their motives are.


  • In Audrey, Wait!, the protagonist uses her national, live TV interview as a chance to spill the beans on everything leading up to this point, thus dispelling the gossip and rumours surrounding her and helping out her friend Evan in the process by exposing their duplicitous label — on live television.
  • In Dragon Bones, the nobleman Haverness is known for his honesty. He's the last one who would be told about a revolution against the king, as he takes his oaths so seriously that he'd be sure to betray all the plans immediately. However, the king is stupid enough to not take into account that he himself has accepted responsibility for the protection of the nobles who have sworn allegiance to him. And Haverness' loyalty is not only to the king but also to the people under his protection. A revolution takes place, with the justification of Screw the Rules, They Broke Them First!.
  • Victor Cachat, the young spymaster for the New Republic of Haven in the Honor Harrington series, is an idealist. He puts himself through and into Hell over his moral issues. He is also the most ruthless SOB in the entire setting when he needs to be.
    • Several of Honor's own rivals have been left aghast at her willingness to drag some odious maneuver of theirs out into the open when they had assumed that she would "play the game" the same way they would. It helps that her very refusal means they have no ammo for doing the same to her.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Necropolis, Sturm's attempt to make his plans without input from the other Imperial Guard officers is betrayed by Daur, who merely says, in his defense, that the officers had the appropriate security clearance.
    • In Warmaster, Gaunt himself foils a coup against Warmaster Macaroth simply by telling him about it. The conspirators were planning to make Gaunt the new warmaster, but Gaunt's loyalty surpasses his ambitions.
  • In Kerry Greenwood's Danger Do Not Enter, everyone hates Argent because she always tells the truth. When asked to clarify, Ben explains,
    Ben: Jacinta asked if her new skirt made her bum look big and Argent said, "Yes." Her teacher asked her if she'd done her homework and Argent said, "No." When she was asked why, Argent said her stepmother and father had a big fight about sex and she was too angry to write about diatoms for her Biology homework.
    Penny: Oh, I see. Ouch.
  • Anaiya of the Blue Ajah in The Wheel of Time is described this way. Her lack of deceit continues to confuse the other plotters in the White Tower. Also, Cadsuane does this deliberately.
    • Galad is probably the best example in the series of this trope. His stepsister says of him, "He always does the right thing, no matter who it hurts." He is introduced to the main characters and the reader when he calls the guards to deal with a peasant boy (Rand) who has fallen over the wall of the royal palace and is being taken care of by the crown princess. She's apparently in no danger, and her brother is with them too, and no one wants Rand to be possibly thrown in jail over an innocent accident, but to Galad the rule about how to handle intruders doesn't allow for exceptions. Later, he joins the Whitecloaks on the strength of their ascetic philosophy, even though his mother and sister are members of or at least connected to the Aes Sedai, who the Whitecloaks all see as Satanic witches. Still later, when he suspects that his superior officer in the Whitecloaks killed his stepmother, he kills him. In a perfectly legal ritual duel, no less, and gets Valda's rank and Blademaster status afterwards.
  • Adviser Arfarra from Yulia Latynina's Wei Empire cycle might fit - while almost the entire Weian establishment is either corrupt or negligent, Arfarra is neither, but is instead a truly ruthless (but consistently, if not obviously idealistic) Knight Templar who has been described as being "capable of anything in matters that didn't affect his own interests" (as opposed to the character that described him thusly, who is capable of anything in matters that did).
  • Carrot from the Discworld Watch novels frequently triumphs because he is so honest and straightforward that the scheming, backstabbing people of Ankh-Morpork don't know how to deal with him. (Being strong enough to knock out a troll in a bar fight helps too...) Later on, he acquires a good dose of cunning but maintains the image and scrupulous honesty - in Men at Arms he's trying to get some information out of a Guild leader, and tells him, with a very serious air, that if the guildmaster doesn't do what he wants, he will, unfortunately and very much against his will, be forced to "carry out the order I was given just before entering." Said order? To leave quietly if the guildmaster refused to help. However, the guildmaster assumes it to be more along the lines of "break a few arms" and, in a panic, relents.
    • Cohen the Barbarian. Not because of his own honesty, but because he assumes everyone else is just as honest as he is. Thus in Interesting Times, when a soldier says, "I would rather die than betray my emperor", Cohen kills him. It doesn't take long for people to stop saying this unless they mean it.
    • Sam Vimes, (Carrot's superior) also gets treated like this on some occasions. Notably, the city's Magnificent Bastard lord, Vetinari, has said that someone who is too honest to play the game makes those who are playing (like the city's nobility) nervous, and Vetinari finds that to be quite useful. Also, when Vimes goes back in time in Night Watch, Vetinari's aunt makes a similar observation.
    • William de Worde in The Truth not only Will Not Tell a Lie himself (it was almost literally beaten into him) but is scrupulously dedicated to the truth and to making sure everyone gets the chance to hear it. Even when they're more interested in stupid stories. This makes him a dangerous monkey wrench in the works of the latest plan to unseat Vetinari because he doesn't gloss over what happened and take the visible facts to be the truth, he goes looking for the actual truth. And he's fond of using Exact Words to persuade people of things without actually lying.
  • From Harry Potter, Snape doesn't really lie to Harry. He hates him, his father, his untameable hair. He doesn't really lie to Dumbledore. He was a Death Eater because he wanted to be one. He doesn't dislike the cause. He detests Muggles and his lineage. It's nigh impossible to lie to Voldemort. He even told him he fancied Lily Potter, Voldemort just wouldn't hear of it. Fans spent years debating whether his attitude yet conflicting behavior meant he was on the good side, on the bad side, or on his own, but he was never that much of a chessmaster and his goal was never that complex. He was just a Death Eater who made a Heel–Face Turn because he really loved Lily Potter.
  • Meursault in The Stranger. It never occurs to him to lie, even to save his own life. Why would his life need saving? Oh, because he's facing the death penalty for having shot a man. For no reason. Unless "the sun was bright" counts as a reason.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love Lazarus Long comments that "business" politicians are usually honest (in the sense that they stay bought simply because that's the best way to stay in business) whereas "reform" politicians tend to be stupidly dishonest, because they are capable of doing literally anything that they believe is in the best interests of the "People."
  • Subverted in the works of Ayn Rand where the characters who serve their self-interest are the idealistic ones. The untrustworthy villains are those who claim they want nothing for themselves and will steal anything for the "common good".
  • In the Morgaine Cycle, Morgaine invokes this trope with her memorable statement, "With devils, there is dealing. Sometimes far easier than with an honest man." She has learned this by bitter experience.
  • In A Confederacy of Dunces, Ignatius is not necessarily evil, but his convictions and rigidity drive the entire plot. At the very outset, his obstinance almost gets him arrested, and things spiral from there.
  • Ned Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire. He puts Honor Before Reason and inadvertently furthers Petyr Baelish's plan purely because he insists on being honest and giving his treasonous opponents a fair chance. Indeed, it is precisely the fact that he puts Honor Before Reason that leads Baelish to regard him as expendable; he is too unpredictable and incapable of being negotiated with.
  • In The Resurrection of Father Brown, the titular priest immediately and repeatedly denies that there was anything miraculous about his seeming resurrection from the dead. It later turns out that his mock death and resurrection had been arranged by his enemies, who were planning to later denounce him as a fraud. They couldn't imagine that Father Brown would be too honest and humble to claim a miracle for his God and Church.
  • Illuminatus! references "Celine's Laws", #3 of which is, "An honest politician is a national calamity." Meaning that while ordinary dishonest politicians are usually content to line their pockets and preserve the status quo, the true believers who try to change society only end up passing more restrictive laws.
  • In The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign, this trope is why the White Queen is so infuriating to Kyousuke. She is and has always been so much stronger than everyone else that their knowledge of her evil plans matters not a whit- she will succeed anyway, and effortlessly, because that is who she is. Deception is for mortals.
    With his greatest enemy right there, he used everything at his disposal. He grabbed the letter opener from the bedside table and stabbed it toward the Queen’s eye, he swung down the lamp, he tried to electrocute her with the power cable, and he tried to strangle her.
    “Oh, dear☆”
    But it was all stopped.
    Without ever losing her smile, the unscathed Queen waved a hand in front of him.
    • Kyousuke himself is also this trope. He is so rational and wounded that he has essentially no pride, and therefore no ego that can be exploited or punctured. Max Layard lost against him because he incorrectly assumed Kyousuke would have arrogance in keeping with his high rank.

    Live Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Stannis is feared by schemers like Varys and Littlefinger because his self-righteousness and refusal to compromise make him much less amenable to providing an environment for their unhindered scheming. Cersei also says it when she declares to Sansa that her first defense after losing the battle would be to seduce the victor, but this would be useless against Stannis.
    • This proves to be part of what makes the High Sparrow troublesome in Season 5. On the one hand, Lady Tyrell discovers that she can't bribe him with anything to get her grandchildren off the hook; on the other hand, Cersei discovers that her tactical patronage of his movement won't stop him turning and giving the same punishment for her many sins that he would give anyone else in that position.
  • Michael in Prison Break. Linc knows he is going to be executed, but at least he has the satisfaction of knowing that Michael went to college and will have a good life. Except not, because Michael cannot let Linc die for a crime he didn't commit so he gets himself sent to prison on purpose to rescue him.
    • Michael's idealism is a source of conflict throughout the show. It takes place in a Crapsack World so they should probably run far away, but Michael wants to take down the company.
  • Kamen Rider:
  • Isabelle's mother says this about the Seelies in the Shadowhunters episode "Of Men and Angels":
    Maryse: Never trust a people who can't lie. They find much more inventive ways to stab you in the back.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Data doesn't lie. Supposedly ever. Which makes it all the more devastating when he does because nobody believes he can possibly be telling an untruth. An entire episode, "Clues", revolved around this concept with Data forced into lying by an order from his captain - who didn't know he'd made the order. It even helped him get away with attempted murder in "The Most Toys" when he uses Exact Words to imply he had not fired a weapon intentionally just as they beamed him out ("perhaps something happened during transport")
  • Survivor: Redemption Island. After Phillip got stuck on the wrong side of an alliance war, he was asked about what was going down. And promptly told the entire plan, despite his fellow alliance members trying to use him as a scapegoat. This distanced himself from the losing side and proved his honesty enough to successfully join in Boston Rob's alliance. It has to be seen to be believed, and was one hell of a way to start Redemption Island.
  • Daredevil (2015): When Wilson Fisk does speak the truth, he's careful with his words as he's twisting the truth to get people to do things that benefit him. He convinces Ray Nadeem that he's a reliable source by providing information on an Albanian syndicate that the FBI are desperate to shut down. Then, after cementing his credibility, Fisk is able to spin the truth to trick Nadeem into thinking Nelson & Murdock were accomplices to him when they were actually the ones who put him away.
  • In the second season of Heroes, Mohinder gets caught up in some morally-grey subterfuge. But, unfortunately, he's an idealist, he doesn't want anyone to get hurt, he tells the truth at the worst possible time and seems terribly inexperienced at fibbing, and he tends to switch sides just because he trusts too easily. So he repeatedly manages to blow up everybody else's plans.
    Mohinder: Let me put it this way. We do it my way, or I blow the whistle right now. Tell Bennet everything.
    Bob: Bennet is dangerous. You saw what he did to his mentor in the Ukraine.
    Elle: Don't you think if push came to shove, he'd do the same to you?
    Mohinder: No. I don't.
    Elle: (to Bob) He's adorable. Can I keep him?
    • Peter Petrelli, as his brother Nathan explains to fellow schemer Tracy, is a similar type:
      "You and I, we think alike. Someone like you, I can trust. Peter's... he's unpredictable. He's got it in his head he's gonna save the world, and that is not how it's gonna end. He is gonna end up getting all of you killed."

  • In "All Too Well" the singer accuses her boyfriend of using honesty as an excuse to be cruel after their relationship ended.

    Video Games 
  • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: In a world where many of the prosecutors are Amoral Attorneys, Klavier Gavin only cares about uncovering the truth behind whatever crime he's prosecuting, not about maintaining a perfect win record. This infuriates the killers when they try to frame whoever Apollo's defending, as they fully expect Klavier to back up their false testimony in order to obtain a guilty verdict. He doesn't. Not even when the killer is someone he knows personally.
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, David Sarif is an idealist who believes that augmentation can uplift humanity. He's willing to do shady things to fulfill this ideal like augmenting a comatose man above and beyond what was needed to save his life, circumventing the law to get information, compromise his own company's network to run secret background checks, and even frame an anti-augmentation organization for biological warfare based terrorism. Compare him with the other two guys Adam can help at the end of the game: Hugh Darrow, a guy willing to cause global chaos and mass murder out of a bitter jealousy of augmented people which he hides behind ostensibly noble reasons, and Taggart, an Illuminati stooge who is just trying to maintain the Illuminati's power over the world. The Illuminati initially wanted to recruit Sarif but gave up when they realized that he was too idealistic to go along with their agenda.
  • Komaeda in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. He's chaotic, unpredictable, suicidal, and absolutely obsessed with his vision of hope. He's also totally honest about his goals and how they might contradict those of the other students. He cannot be swayed to commit murder because he hides no secret desires for Monokuma to prey on, but he also has no problem with participating in the Killing Game as a victim because of his bizarre views about tragedy leading to hope, and happily tells the rest of the class that if they want to kill him, he'd help out. The only piece of information he deliberately hides is the one that drove him across the Despair Event Horizon; the fact that the class were former members of Ultimate Despair.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • The Reverend Darren Englund, in the Whateley Universe stories. He's so idealistic and so concerned about protecting the planet from demonic threats that he hires assassins to kill a schoolgirl, which leads to an invasion of the Superhero School Whateley Academy. On the other hand, the girl in question is prophesied to become The Kellith, whose spawn will wipe humans from the earth. Interestingly enough, before the incident, she had already killed her own future self, theoretically negating that possibility. Also, if anything would make Kellith go evil, the stuff this guy does would. Considering his 'hate-filled sermons', he might just be a straight-out Knight Templar. Him helping to rescue Kerry in "Angel in Father John's Basement" helps.
  • Remus of Sanders Sides fame is a unique example in that his honesty is precisely why he's feared; Remus is the personification of imagination that exclusively creates ideas that Thomas finds too disturbing, violent or sexual to explore and usually experiences in the form of intrusive thoughts. As such, Remus has absolutely no filter and will torment Thomas and the other sides with every R-rated thought that crosses his mind.

    Western Animation 
  • In Transformers: Prime, Dreadwing loses faith in the Decepticon cause and betrays Megatron by giving the Autobots the Forge of Solus Prime, giving them a fighting chance, when he realizes that Megatron doesn't really appreciate honor and loyalty.
  • In Beast Wars, Dinobot has no problem with Megatron's plan of going to prehistoric earth to kill the original Optimus Prime while he was in his 4 million year stasis. His initial problem with Megatron was he got them stranded on the incorrectly assumed wrong planet and Megatron's cowardice in the face of a challenge to honorable combat when called out on his incompetence. Later, when Megatron is proven right, Dinobot temporarily switches sides back to Megatron until Megatron proves to be the liar once again. Throughout his time with the Maximals, Dinobot makes no secret that he still views himself as a Predacon and will return to them once they get back to Cybertron.
  • Gravity Falls: In Mabel's story in "Bottomless Pit!", she tricks Grunkle Stan into wearing a set of magic dentures that force him to always tell the truth. Things quickly take a turn for the worst as Stan blurts out every truth that comes to his head, and nearly confesses his many crimes to the police.

    Real Life 
  • The Business Plot, a reported conspiracy by a group of wealthy businessmen and right-wing politicians that intended to overthrow the American government in 1933 and install a fascist dictatorship, supposedly fell victim to this when the conspirators chose Marine Major General Smedley Darlington Butler to lead the coup. Butler instead chose to reveal the plot to the government, which fairly quickly brought an end to the conspiracy. They probably picked him because he was the commanding officer of the force that was ordered to crack down on the Bonus Army, a group of impoverished WW1 veterans who were rendered homeless and jobless by the Great Depression, camped out on the National Mall in Washington, DC to request that the government pay them their support bonuses a bit earlier than initially agreed to, citing the hardship of the Great Depression as the reason they needed help more immediately. The particularly brutal crackdown against the bonus army was cited as a major factor sealing the fate of Herbert Hoover's reputation but was part of what endeared Hoover to the conspirators of the Business Plot. They probably figured since Butler led that crackdown, he would be a natural choice for their plans. Fortunately for the nation, they figured wrongly. Then again, maybe Butler was just smart enough to realize he wouldn't get away with it. Everyone already knows that The Butler Did It. Of course, the idea also had the rather serious flaw that Butler was an outspoken critic of fascism who had actively campaigned for the president they expected him to overthrow.
  • Any whistleblower in a Real Life case of corruption in any organization. Most of them prove to be truly honest people stuck in a bad situation, trying to reveal criminal misdeeds in order to save people and bring the corrupt figures to justice. The problem is, most whistleblowers end up suffering afterward - even with whistle-blower protection laws in place - because most people are biased against "snitches".
  • Brian Moynahan, in Airport International, reported that theft was so endemic among cargo and baggage handlers at Heathrow Airport in the 1970s that the supervisors would informally screen new hires for honesty. When you were assigned a locker, you would find an envelope of cash in the locker. If you reported it, you would find yourself assigned to the late shifts and the heavy loads.