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.