Posthumous Honesty – Poll Results

It’s been a while since I last posted. I’ve had a lot going on in real life, which will probably make for interesting blog material before long, but for the time being, I really ought to deal with the poll I set up some time ago.

The scenario that I set up specified that you knew you would die tomorrow, and had the opportunity to leave messages for others, if you wanted, to tell them exactly what you dislike about them. My reason for setting the poll up was that when I considered the possibility of being able to do such a thing, I couldn’t work out how I felt about it. I didn’t think I’d do it, but I couldn’t say why, as there didn’t seem to be any good reason not to. I wondered if it might be that I thought it would reflect badly on me in some way, which was why I specified that you would suffer no negative consequences.

I think the poll might have benefitted from slightly more care in its design to get at meaningful results, but the responses surprised me:

Only 4 of 21 responders would leave messages, and all of those would choose to tell everyone about all the things that they dislike. Everyone else declined to leave any messages, so not a single person went for the cautious options, saying “yes” under various conditions. I expected those to be quite popular, but maybe you adjusted to the thought experiment better than I did.

My instinctive reaction was to think about the wider consequences. Did that person deserve this sort of treatment? Would anyone be really hurt? What about people who I quite like in general, even while finding some of their habits irritating? No one else seems to have shared these concerns, either letting it go or going for the nuclear option of telling everyone exactly what they think. Maybe that makes sense – if you’re going to start being open and honest, why stop? What’s the point of discretion once you’re dead?

I was also surprised that 6 people said they wouldn’t say anything because it would be unkind. If it was kindness that prevented them from making their feelings known, why not say yes, as long as no one was really hurt? It’s effectively the same position framed differently, which was a deliberate choice, but everyone fell on one side of the divide.

Overall, I was hoping to get some way towards answering the question of how we derive our morals and our sense of right and wrong. We behave in a certain way in everyday life, but I wondered if the ability to say what we thought without the social consequences we normally face would produce different answers. From that point of view, the 10 people who said it didn’t matter (because you’re dead) don’t do much to answer the question.

Possibly the most interesting aspect was the comments that people would like the option to say nice, positive things that they’d never got around to for whatever reason. Taken with the strong overall rejection of the “cruel honesty” options and the choice of “No” on grounds of kindness over “Yes” as long as no one got hurt, I have a suspicion that there’s an instinctive element to our responses, as a result of ingrained habits. That isn’t meant to be insulting – I’m as guilty as anyone – and it’s only a tentative conclusion based on a laughably small sample size for a dodgy poll. But it’s a hypothesis.


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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

9 responses to “Posthumous Honesty – Poll Results”

  1. Nowhere Man says :

    I agree. Once your dead it doesn’t really matter so why bother (unless it is someone that you really want to get back at and you wouldn’t be able to rest in your grave unless you did)

  2. Sabio Lantz says :

    Interesting question because I wouldn’t even imagine doing it.
    Concerning what it says about morals and ethical systems:

    (1) We must remember that what people will do and what they say they will do are often two different things.

    (2) People can’t imagine who they will be or how they will act when they jump into totally unfamiliar grounds — like knowing they will die.

    (3) Our ethical choices are rarely rational — our reason usually acts as a post-hoc story to explain our actions or habits. Instead our habits are the complex interaction of experiences and temperament (which has a huge genetic component). We tend to be deluded into thinking our actions are much more conscious than they actually are.

    That said, and your poll helps reveal: I am always surprised at all the various animals there are out there who each call themselves “human”. How we differ from each other is often huge.

    Nice post (701 word count + graphic, nice) 🙂

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I’ve since caught up on your recent poll efforts, which I like. I prefer option 3 as an answer, but that’s subjective, personal and probably irrational!

      I don’t want to seem rude, because I do appreciate your thoughts and your honesty, but are you going to be popping up on every post to congratulate or berate me over my word count and letting me know how much you approve of my style in other areas? You may have a point about length, and I like your blog, which gets far more hits and comments than mine, but this is still my blog, and I write as much as I think is needed. It’s not as if I deliberately insert huge chunks of dead wood for shiggles.

      I’m currently planning a post which means a lot to me and (I suspect) may well end up being unavoidably lengthy, but I’m starting to feel self-conscious about it.

      • Sabio Lantz says :

        Ah, sorry. I won’t talk about length any more. Good luck on your post.

      • Recovering Agnostic says :

        Don’t worry about it. I really appreciate your comments and advice, and it’s probably good for me to consider length. I just don’t want to feel under pressure to conform to someone else’s ideas of how I should write, however good the advice might be. 🙂

  3. Sabio Lantz says :

    Ouch, I got knocked out of your blogroll.

  4. Sabio Lantz says :

    Interesting: I am in the Miscellaneous column. Curious how you picked it. But as long as I am in Sunstone’s Cafe, all is well with me. 🙂

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      Not sure, because I wouldn’t have said I put you in Miscellaneous. Belief or Lack seems more like it. I’m going to have to check all the other links now, because I’m not sure how that happened.

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