Hello, my name is Dede Nyansapo. I am an entrepreneur who also participates in Accra’s burgeoning gig economy as a driver. My love for meeting fascinating people and my curiosity about how they think usually places me in the midst of some very entertaining conversations. Invariably, these conversations lead to some key learnings that may be useful to anyone on their business journey.

Episode 18: The Cost of Honesty

It was another unremarkable Tuesday evening when I pulled up to an office building in Accra, where two colleagues, Yaw and Agyemang, were waiting for their Uber. They looked weary but animated, clearly ready to unwind after a long day at work. Both were dressed in business attire, their loosened ties and undone top buttons hinting at the desire to relax. As they climbed into the car, they continued an intense conversation about politics, revealing a deep-seated debate about the honesty of politicians.

Yaw: So, Agyemang, another long day at the office?

Agyemang: You could say that, Yaw. Always something to keep us busy. Ready for this after-work function?

Yaw: Yeah, looking forward to it. Should be a good chance to unwind. Hey, I’ve been thinking about something—what’s your take on politicians and honesty?

Agyemang: Ah, the age-old question. Honestly, Yaw, I think politicians sometimes need to lie to govern effectively. There are situations where the truth could cause unnecessary panic or hinder important deals.

Yaw: Really? I think politicians should always be honest. I believe the public would trust them more and reward their honesty in the long run.

Agyemang: I get where you’re coming from, but imagine if a politician had to break the news about a major financial crisis. If they were brutally honest, it could cause widespread panic, runs on banks, and economic instability. Sometimes a little white lie can keep the peace until a more permanent solution is found.

Yaw: But don’t you think people deserve to know the truth? If the public is informed, they can prepare and make better decisions for themselves. Deception might provide temporary calm, but it undermines trust in the long run. Once a politician is caught lying, it’s hard to ever believe them again.

Agyemang: I agree that trust is important, but consider the bigger picture. Politicians have to manage not just public opinion but also international relations, economic stability, and social harmony. There are so many variables in play that sometimes withholding the full truth, or even lying, is the lesser of two evils.

Yaw: But lying can lead to a slippery slope. If a politician lies once and gets away with it, what’s to stop them from lying again and again? Eventually, it erodes the very foundation of democracy. People need to trust their leaders, and without honesty, that trust is impossible.

Agyemang: True, but in practice, absolute honesty can be impractical. Take international diplomacy, for example. Countries often engage in delicate negotiations where revealing all intentions or plans could jeopardize the outcome. Politicians have to play a strategic game, and part of that game sometimes involves not being entirely truthful.

Yaw: Yet, when it comes to international diplomacy, isn’t there a difference between strategic ambiguity and outright lying? Being strategic doesn’t necessarily mean being dishonest. A politician can choose their words carefully without deceiving the public or other nations.

Agyemang: That’s a fair point, but it’s a very fine line to walk. Even strategic ambiguity can be perceived as dishonesty. Moreover, in times of war or national security threats, misinformation can be a tool to protect a nation. Think about World War II and how disinformation campaigns were used to mislead enemies. Wasn’t that form of lying justified to save lives?

Yaw: I see where you’re coming from, but those were extraordinary circumstances. In day-to-day governance, I believe honesty is a more sustainable policy. When leaders are honest, they set a standard for everyone else to follow. It creates a culture of transparency and accountability.

Agyemang: In an ideal world, I’d agree with you. But humans are complex, and politics even more so. Sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions that might not align with public sentiment. If they were entirely honest about their motives or the complexity of issues, it could lead to backlash that hinders progress.

Yaw: But shouldn’t leaders trust the public’s ability to understand complex issues? By being honest, they can educate and involve the public in decision-making. It’s about empowering people rather than treating them as if they can’t handle the truth.

Agyemang: Ideally, yes. But in reality, not everyone has the time or inclination to delve into the intricacies of political decisions. Plus, the media often simplifies or sensationalizes issues, which can distort public perception. Sometimes, a lie or omission is about managing public perception to ensure stability and progress.

Yaw: But look at what happens when politicians are caught in lies. Scandals break out, confidence in the government plummets, and the whole political system can become destabilized. If they were honest from the start, even if it was difficult, they’d avoid these damaging scandals.

Agyemang: That’s true, but it assumes that the public would react rationally to complete honesty. In practice, people can react emotionally, and a poorly received truth can be just as destabilizing as a lie. Moreover, opposition parties often exploit the truth for political gain, which can further complicate governance.

Yaw: Still, I believe that over time, people would come to appreciate honesty. Look at politicians who are known for their integrity. They tend to have a strong, loyal following. Integrity builds long-term respect and trust, which are crucial for effective leadership.

Agyemang: There are definitely examples of honest politicians who have earned respect. But there are also many who, despite their integrity, struggle to implement their policies because of public or political resistance. Governing effectively often requires a blend of honesty and pragmatism.

Yaw: Perhaps. But I think the challenge is finding ways to be honest while still being pragmatic. It’s about how you communicate the truth, not whether you tell it. If politicians were skilled in conveying complex truths in a way that the public could understand and accept, they wouldn’t need to lie.

Agyemang: That’s an admirable goal, but it’s incredibly challenging in practice. Political communication is fraught with pitfalls, and the truth is often messy and uncomfortable. It’s easier to simplify or sidestep difficult truths to maintain order and get things done.

Yaw: Easier, maybe, but not better. The best leaders in history are often those who told difficult truths and inspired people to rise to the occasion. They didn’t take the easy way out with lies; they confronted challenges head-on with honesty and integrity.

Agyemang: Those leaders are certainly inspirational. But for every successful honest leader, there are countless others who failed because they couldn’t navigate the political landscape effectively. It’s a tough balance to strike.

Yaw: I won’t deny that it’s tough, but I think it’s worth striving for. Honesty might not always be the easiest path, but it’s the most sustainable one for building a strong, trusting relationship between leaders and the public.

Agyemang: I appreciate your idealism, Yaw. Maybe a mix of both approaches is necessary—honesty whenever possible, and strategic ambiguity when absolutely necessary. It’s about finding the right balance.

Yaw: Balance is key, I agree. But I still believe that leaning towards honesty as much as possible is the best policy. It’s about building a political culture that values and rewards integrity.

Agyemang: That’s a noble goal, and I hope more politicians strive towards it. Perhaps with time and societal pressure, we can move closer to that ideal.

Yaw: Here’s hoping. It’s up to us as citizens to demand and reward honesty from our leaders. Maybe then, we’ll see more of it in practice.

Agyemang: Indeed. It’s been great discussing this with you, Yaw. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

Yaw: Likewise, Agyemang. It’s always good to hear different perspectives. Maybe we’ll cross paths again sometime and see how things have progressed.

Agyemang: I’d like that. By the way, I think we’re almost there. Ready to relax and enjoy the evening?

Yaw: Absolutely. Let’s make the most of it.


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