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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 you 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, Villains Never Lie and Cassandra Truth.

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Other examples:

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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.

    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. Aladdin doesn't listen, getting himself into more and more trouble by constantly lying on top of his original lies, until it all comes crashing down when the truth comes out on its own.
  • 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. That she not only showed no remorse, but seemed proud of what she did probably didn't help her case.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Broken Arrow, an advisor tells the Joint Chiefs to be honest about a stealth bomber crashing because someone almost certainly watched it take off and they'd look foolish with a lie. Later the Joint Chiefs head him off by declaring under no circumstances would they ever admit that a nuclear bomb was just detonated underground by a terrorist on US soil.
  • In Clear and Present Danger, the US President is advised not just to not deny his friendship with a murdered businessman who turned out to have drug ties, but to ramp it up answering with "we were life long friends" thus stumping reporters with follow-up questions.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Captain Jack Sparrow will often use a lot of complete truth mixed in with outright lies when manipulating people. This means that, while you should never trust him, you also can't afford to actually ignore him. It 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."
  • In The Three Musketeers (1993), the king confronts Richelieu about the rumors of betrayal surrounding him. Rather than deny anything, Richelieu lists off every single treasonous and blasphemous thing he's been up to to the king's face with a hint of mockery to make the king think the whole notion is ridiculous.

  • 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 an 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."

    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.
  • Mentioned by Sheogorath in The Elder Scrolls Online: "Speak up! Honesty is the best policy, as far as you know."
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: Link can throw his items into some fairy fountains. A fairy will confront him immediately, asking if he dropped his item into the water. If you answer honestly, the fairy can sometimes give a better item. If you lie and say it wasn't you, the fairy is disappointed and always just returns your item.
  • 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 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 — disagree. 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 Vaarsuvius from taking responsibility for their actions during the Splice. It is also notable that "Contracts are for people with something to hide" sounds an awful lot like "we're not hiding anything from you" without meaning anything of the kind.
  • 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 

    Western Animation 
  • Invoked in the Amphibia episode “Return to Wartwood”. When the Plantars realize they’ve forgotten to bring back Souvenirs for the townsfolk from their trip to Newtopia, they plot a scheme to cover it up. It’s Anne Boonchuy who opposes this scheme, lampshading that she has learned the importance of honesty many, many times throughout the series, and only begrudgingly going along with it because Sprig fears it might damage his budding relationship with Ivy. When the scheme predictably backfires, the Plantars are forced to admit the truth, learning that while the townsfolk are disappointed that the Plantars didn’t bring back gifts, they’re mostly just glad to have them back as life was boring without their usual antics, and are more upset they didn’t just tell the truth in the first place (earning the Plantars a dirty look from Anne).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Sparkle 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.
  • The Simpsons: In "Bart's Friend Falls in Love", Bart Simpson 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