Reactance: Dishonesty stinks

Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

MARK TWAIN once told this story on “honesty”: When I was a boy, I was walking along a street and happened to spy a cart full of watermelon. I was fond of watermelons, so I sneaked quietly up to the cart and snitched one. Then I ran into a nearby alley and sank my teeth into the melon. No sooner had I done so, however, than a strange feeling came over me. Without a moment’s hesitation, I made a decision. I walked back to the cart, replaced the melon—and took a ripe one.

Indeed, honesty is still the best policy unless you’re hungry. In the 1994 comedy-drama film “It Could Happen to You”—policeman Charlie (Nicolas Cage) and hairdresser Muriel (Rosie Perez) led a simple, married life until they won a $4 million from a lottery. Unlike Charlie, Muriel is greedy, selfish, and materialistic who constantly complains about their situation in life.

Prior to winning the lottery, Charlie had eaten at a café—a place where he and fellow police officers used to frequent for their regular meals where they are served by waitress Yvonne Biasi (Bridget Fonda) who is insolvent because her husband emptied their bank account and left her with credit card debts.

At one time, Charlie hadn’t been able to tip Yvonne. Charlie had promised her, jokingly that if he won the lottery he’d give her half of it. The following day, he won the lottery and keeps his promise to Yvonne, despite the strong protests of Muriel.

Imagine that you are like Charlie and you want to keep your word to people no matter what. How should you behave in this world full of dishonest people? The answer is clear: Even if a million people are dishonest, still they’re dishonest.

Forget politicians and our government leaders. We’ll talk about them when we cover the topic on thievery and murder. But why, outside of those in government service, we continue to lose trust of other people. Look around us. Even those who hold responsible corporate jobs appear to be contaminated with dishonesty virus that they’ll give you double talk as soon as circumstances began to appear in their favor.

How about those who sell supplements that promise a healthy life, medical cure, lose weight, regrow hair, enhance sex life, and energize a work day? How about the volunteer workers who promise to help in non-profit organizations? Name it and you can immediately visualize a lot of examples that portray disgusting relationships between and among people.

Today, it’s easy for many of us to distrust people even if you try to continuously give them a clean slate. How can you explain it? In psychology, there’s such a thing as “reactance”—a motivational reaction to anything that threatens or poses to eliminate specific behavioral freedom. An example of reactance is when a person continues to engage in an immoral or unethical activity to taunt another who advises him against it.

This happens because of a wrongful belief that his freedom to manage things is being curtailed. Even if the decision is patently irregular, the freedom-seeker tries to do whatever he wants because he wants to have an independent mind even if it appears that he’s going the wrong way.

I’m not good at grasping the character of a person in our first meeting, even if he’s wearing red at somebody’s wake. I’m the type of person who will be naïve standing in front of another person who will try to befriend me and quietly think: “Maybe he likes what I’ve written in my previous columns.”

I especially have a problem with a person, the kind who is properly educated, but you and I can’t be sure whether you’re looking at a homeless hippie or a drunk alien the way he carries himself in public. But still anyway, I don’t judge people based on the length of their hair as long as they appear sincere, clean and don’t smell.

Call me a wreck, but I’m worried about the dishonesty of people that I’ve encountered lately. I consulted a psychologist to explain me what could be the possible reason. You guess it right. The psychologist told me about “reactance” as one probable reason. I like the word. And that’s how I came to use it in today’s column.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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1 Comment

  1. A better way to connect with people is to trust them until proven otherwise. It goes also for you, to trust yourself when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you (to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling).