Answer: Let us turn the question
around by first establishing the importance of truth-telling. The
Bahá’í writings have given the highest priority to truthfulness.
Consider this remarkable statement from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the
son and successor of the Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892):
“Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of
humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the
worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is
established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized”
(Tablets, vol 2, p. 459).
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s statement is heavily packed but one key idea comes to
mind. Most crimes, or even lesser evasions of responsibility, involve
lying. Denial of the truth is usually the first defence of the
criminal. Consequently, were the truth always told, crimes would
greatly decrease; criminals would always confess; justice would be more
easily dispensed. Imagine the increase in peace and security at all
Perhaps the greatest lie is one the one that we tell to ourselves about
ourselves. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s statement implies truthfulness about oneself,
i.e. knowing and facing oneself as a human mix of virtue and vice.
Those who choose the path to God must be willing to take a serious
character inventory, and resolve to overcome those weakness that have
delayed moral and spiritual progress and happiness. This personal
inventory can be successful only if and when we are willing to be
truthful about ourselves. The task is, of course, a most difficult and
subtle one because subjectivity has difficulty understanding itself.
But knowing oneself, as the oracle at the shrine of Apollo at Delphi
commanded, is a worthwhile exercise because it leads to
Truthfulness, then, is a perspective or an attitude toward all life. It
is not restricted merely to verbal truthfulness. It involves, as
Bahá’u’lláh exhorted, “to look into all things with a searching eye”
(Tablets, p. 156). This suggests scientific inquiry as much as avoiding
the verbal falsehood.
To answer the question more directly: A doctor might give a patient a
hopeful prognosis just to encourage him, even if he were not doing
well. Even life-threatening illnesses demand a judicious mixture of
truthfulness and hope. -