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Honesty Is the Best Policy

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"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."
Caine (making his closing argument after The Reveal at the end), Caine Black Knife

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.


Not related to Honesty Aesop. See Honest Axe and Secret Test of Character for when the character really is just being honest and not Genre Savvy. See also Sarcastic Confession, Just Between You and Me, Cassandra Truth.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Card Games 
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Subversion, sort of: in Laff-A-Lympics #5, the Really Rottens have apparently renounced their cheating ways. Mrs. Creeply lampshades it, then Hokey Wolf subverts it:
    Mrs. Creeply: We are as honest as the day is long.
    Hokey: Well, the days are getting shorter this time of year.
  • 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. Doomsday Clock reveals that Rorschach's diary was eventually published. It helped unravel Veidt's plans in less than a decade, leaving the world in even worse shape.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • In Eros Turannos, this attitude highlights Firmus Piett's policy in dealing with his superiors, to the extent that he admits his doubts about his suitability for a promotion even when he was offered the position by Darth Vader in person because he recognises his potential inexperience in this area, even when angering Vader is regarded as a bad idea (Vader, however, appreciates Piett's honesty and promotes him regardless).
  • In Hiccup the Useless, when the Hooligan Tribe's idea of pretending that Snotlout was the hero of Berk goes horribly wrong, Hiccup comes up with the idea of being honest with Chief Mogadon instead. He cites the consequences of him keeping Toothless a secret from Stoick and them collectively keeping their dragons a secret from Dagur as proof that keeping secrets will only make things worse. Not only that, but by showing that everyone knows how to tame dragons on Berk, it would lower Hiccup's "value" and thus make it less likely that Mogadon will "collect" him. He was right.
  • Played With in The Karma of Lies: After Lila steals from him, Adrien assumes that all he needs to do is be perfectly honest and tell the police everything, and they'll automatically believe him because he's telling the truth. This includes admitting that he knew she was a Con Artist the whole time, but chose not to expose her, letting her scam his friends for months. For bonus points, he'd also seen that Marinette was being bullied and isolated for trying to warn everyone, yet still assumed that things would be different for him because he's Adrien Agreste, and everybody loves him, right?
  • White Sheep (RWBY):
    • When Sienna Khan, leader of a violent Faunus militia group, asks Ren why they should work together, he bluntly admits that they have few common goals, no common motives, and even use entirely different means to accomplish their goals. But the only other option is the Radical faction, who were plenty crazy even before they became a cult worshiping a spiteful asshole. Sienna accepts this, and agrees to work with them.
    • Sienna specifically interrogates Ilia, who was recently one of Adam's trusted lieutenants, on why she's planning to side with Sienna rather than Adam's cult. Instead of arguing morality or love or any of her myriad other motivations, Ilia says simply "Adam got eaten by a dragon. I don't want to be eaten by a dragon." Sienna snorts and says she's heard worse reasons.
    • Yang talks to the God of Darkness about how the God of Light has been screwing him over for as long as the world has existed, asking him to put in half the work and then letting him get shuffled off into the Grimmlands where no worshipers would ever come visit. The God of Light was worshiped and adored, while the God of Darkness was shunned and feared. The God of Darkness accuses her of trying to make him attack the God of Light—and Yang says yes, that's exactly right. But that doesn't mean she's wrong. In the end, she does convince the God of Darkness to fight the God of Light, and after he wins they dedicate a yearly festival in his honor.

    Films — Animation 
  • Genie attempting to get Aladdin to tell Jasmine the truth about the whole "not-really-a-prince-but-rather-a-street-urchin" thing.
  • 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.
  • Said word for word in Sons of the Desert, by Betty Laurel to her husband Stan as she pampers him with candy and cigarettes, after he was unable to stick to his and Ollie's lie about where they had gone and tearfully confessed the truth. Later, Stan relates the lesson to Ollie: "Betty said that honesty is the best politics."

  • While the Aesop's 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 are numerous tales/jokes where a ruler inspects the prison, and everyone insists he is innocent. Finally, the last prisoner admits he is indeed a criminal... to which the ruler says "Let this monster out, I won't allow him to ruin all the good people here!"

  • 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!"
  • Subverted in an old hazing game where the pledges or newbies or what-have-you are told that "Honesty is the best policy." The pledges are then asked a question which ranges from reasonable to silly to embarrassing to malicious. The pledge then whispers their response to a referee of sorts, who then announces to the body whether the pledge has answered correctly or not. Those who have answered incorrectly are subjected to some sort of punishment (again, the maliciousness of it depends on the organization). They are again reminded that, "Honesty is the best policy." Rinse, repeat. The solution, of course, is to ignore the question and simply answer, "Honesty."

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • This crops up in several ways in a A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • Bronn makes his living (and keeps himself alive) basically by being Mr Honest — if, occasionally, Mr Blunt, too. He's totally upfront about his skills, about what he will do (it's a long list), what he won't do (quite short, but only if the money is good), what he has done (when it becomes relevant) and, only very occasionally, who he has worked for (only if they're in no position to care that he's outed them or if it's a matter of easily accessible record). He won't go into details, though, if he doesn't have to; and, says as much. Usually politely. He's also upfront about being Only in It for the Money and when/where/how he'll pull the contract on his end... And, as a result, no hard feelings -- which means he's unlikely to get a sword to the face from, say, a disappointed ex-employer with a disproportionate grudge.
    • The Lannisters, as a group, tend towards owning what they do and who they are, so they use this tactic in preference to many others. Also, the truth is often a more potent weapon than outright lies or being Metaphorically True precisely because it can be verified. Jaime and Tyrion, in particular, are great advocates of saying exactly what they know and what they have done (well, most of the time) when it'll serve them to do so. Both boys learned from Dad, although Tywin can be rather more parsimonious with what he shares and with whom. Cersei... not quite so much: she can be a bit hampered by not always seeing why she should come totally clean (particularly as she has a lot of very dangerous dirty linen).
    • The Golden Company has this as a basic strategy: because they're known to be exceedingly honest, the very rare occasions they do attack an ex-employer, or otherwise break a contract, everybody in both Westeros and Essos knows for absolutely certain that either A) said (stupid) employer tried to screw them over in some way (and thus had their inevitable, embarrassingly thorough curbstomp coming) or B) they are following a Blackfyre into a battle for the Iron Throne on very short notice (sorry, Boss: the discretionary clause is right there), so when they C) seemingly break their pattern by ditching Myr's standing contract for no discernible reason and then start hitting the Stormlands on behalf of an unknown quantity in a time without any significant Blackfyre inheritors/ pretenders around to speak of, it proves the rule thanks to throwing a lot of uncertainty into the mix for both bystanders and those in the middle of it.
  • In Warrior Cats, often when a cat is caught doing something "wrong", they tell their leader the truth, since they typically were doing it for a good reason and the leader will understand (for instance, when Fireheart and Graystripe were caught bringing prey to a starving enemy Clan).
  • Every last Aes Sedai in The Wheel of Time, no matter her individual personality or Ajah, can and will pounce with this... when she's absolutely certain it'll get the people she's being painfully honest at to do what she wants because they've otherwise been boxed in. However, beware some of them mixing Exact Words, or being Metaphorically True, for all those who are properly sworn to the Oath Rod Cannot Tell a Lie, not all Aes Sedai necessarily come all the way totally, 100% honestly honest all the time. Even if they think they are.
  • 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 
  • The Dukes of Hazzard, Twisted in Season 4's "Nothing But the Truth." Boss Hogg sits on a syringe containing truth serum, and finds that honesty being the best policy could cost him his marriage (he lets slip he doesn't really love Lulu) and his life (when he reveals the truth behind one of his schemes to the authorities and names names).
  • The Hogan Family, In "Leave It To Willie," what Willie thinks will bail him out of serious trouble. After all, all you have to do is confess that you stole your father's convertible to go out for a joy ride (all while you're 12 years old and nowhere near having a driver's license), crash the car into a parked car and cause major damage, flee the scene even though there was an eyewitness to the incident, try to cover up the damage, and allow your big brother to take the blame ... and you'll get off scot free. Not so ... Willie's mother, Valerie, tells him that by not coming clean when he was asked, he lied by omission ... claiming he did not know anything about the accident that she just accused David of. So in essence, the aesop becomes, "Honesty is the best policy when you are asked the first time, even when the truth is difficult and you could face severe consequences anyway."
  • 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; it's 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 maintaining a false facade towards the others is okay.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981) 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.
  • In the second episode of Resident Alien, Dr. Vanderspeigle manages to win over a cranky old patient by bluntly informing him that he'll be dead by the end of the year. The patient had become embittered toward Vanderspeigle's predecessor because he suspected that the doctor's warnings were just an attempt to trick him into dieting when he knew that he was getting so old that he'd be dead soon anyway.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • WWE manager Slick's Catchphrase was "Honesty is the best policy." Of course, he often averted it to so many degrees.
  • The Addiction, known for their subterfuge, blackmailing and underhanded tactics adopted a policy of "honesty" after their Knights Of The Rising Dawn conspiracy failed. While it did lead to them winning Ring of Honor's Tag Team Title belts, the fallout lead to them having to defend those belts in a ladder war against both the Motor City Machine Guns and The Young Bucks. Well, "honesty" didn't make their last stand anymore effective, so it was back to subterfuge and infiltration, this time against Cody and Bullet Club.

  • Ruby Quest: When Ruby got a Third Eye, she hid it from her companion Tom. Later, strong pressure from players led her to reveal it, which led to a heartwarming moment and probably a lot less trouble down the line.

    Video Games 
  • 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...
  • Mentioned by Sheogorath in The Elder Scrolls Online: "Speak up! Honesty is the best policy, as far as you know."
  • In Stardew Valley, most if not all friendship scenes where you can lie (or try to convince someone else to) will turn out better if you're just honest and upfront instead. For example, in one scene at the clinic, you startle Maru into dropping a beaker, and she's concerned about what Harvey will say when he finds out. You can either tell her to clean up the evidence and pretend it didn't happen (she refuses and tells him what happened; you lose points with her for your bad suggestion), tell her to blame you instead (he'll reprimand her for not taking personal responsibility and cut her pay to recoup the expenses; you lose points with her), or tell her to admit that she had an accident (he'll tell her not to worry about it, because she's such a reliable employee; you gain points with her). Often averted when people ask for your opinion on things: you tend to gain points if you pick the option that affirms their own belief, even if you - the player - disagrees. For example, when you catch Linus digging through a trashcan for discarded food, he tells you that there's nothing wrong with it because it'd just go to waste anyway, then asks you if you think otherwise. If you do say so, he'll be disappointed and you'll lose points with him.

    Web Comics 
  • 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 Jackass 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 him from taking responsibility for his actions during the Splice.
  • Misfile: Normally not relevant; since the world got hit with a Cosmic Retcon that turned Ash female and took two years off Emily's age while updating everyone else's memories to match, they know better than to try and tell people the truth. But it is referenced when Ash needs to break up with his/her girlfriend, and is looking for an excuse.
    Emily: Honesty is the best policy.
    Ash: Honesty would get us both locked in an insane asylum.
  • In El Goonish Shive, after nearly dying because of Abraham, Nanase decides she doesn't want to die living a lie and decides to be as honest as she can be. This includes being open about her homosexuality, wearing the clothes she likes and not lying to those close to her about as many things as possible without divulging government secrets or breaking The Masquerade.
  • In Whither, Finn only starts cooperating (if not outright trusting) Emelind once she stops beating around the bush and tells him the truth, as much of it as she knows.

    Web Videos 
  • In Critical Role, Yasha will tell the truth even if it’s not the best thing for her. She explains that she’s not skilled enough to get away with deceiving many people, so she would rather have a reliable reputation for the truth that people could respect than ruin things with a failed lie.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 (though they do demand that he give up the Artifact of Doom that caused her to become a crazy monster). 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.
  • An episode of Goof Troop has Goofy reinforce this as his motto, which leads Pete to exploit him by bringing him to work at his used car store and having him hypnotized into being a crooked salesman like himself, as he figures customers will trust Goofy more than him. In the end, Goofy ends up taking Pete's lessons a little too literally ("finders keepers", for example, leads to him stealing a car he had just sold simply because it was parked and left unsupervised), causing Pete so much trouble that he has to "revert" Goofy toward the end of the episode.
  • The Simpsons: In "Bart's Friend Falls in Love", Bart is jealous of Milhouse spending time with his new girlfriend, so he tells her overprotective father about the relationship so he can break it up, leaving Milhouse utterly broken. Bart ends up feeling guilty about hurting his friend, and though he's hesitant at first, he tells the truth, which makes a now-furious Milhouse attack him until they're both exhausted and they reconcile.
    Bart: Lisa, I feel terrible. I ratted on my best friend, and he doesn't even know I did it.
    Lisa: Well, according to Eternity magazine, the feeling of guilt has been linked to the neurotransmitter gamephenomene. Dow Chemical is developing a minty gel which will eliminate excess guilt, but unfortunately, it won't be on the market for another six months. So I guess you're gonna have to bite the bullet and confess to Milhouse.

    Real Life 
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Washington Gambit