Monday, July 12, 2010

The Life Lesson of Lying

After reading Po Bronson's article, "Learning to Lie," I thought about lying. About my own life and my lies. About the definition of a lie-Webster calls it "a false statement made with intent to deceive." I thought about little white lies and half-truths and how people rationalize these by telling themselves that they're trying not to hurt anybody's feelings or that it causes less trouble to smooth things over with a slightly dishonest answer. I thought about Dr. Victoria Talwar's claim that "lying is related to intelligence" and is "a developmental milestone."

I remembered the sickening feeling I got as a child whenever I lied to my parents to stay out of trouble or to avoid a subject I thought they might disapprove of. I recalled winning a contest as a child and calling my mother and telling her all about the event, but claiming I didn't know the child who had won, so that when I came home with a fifty dollar prize, I could say, "I tricked you!" I felt so proud to have been able to "pull one over" on Mom, but her sarcastic remark, "I'm so glad you've learned to lie so well," filled me with guilt.

I thought about how children are encouraged to lie by people they look up to. They see parents tell telemarketers that they have the wrong number. They hear teachers tell students that the class hamster ran away when they overheard her talking to the janitor about how it died over the weekend. Children are told to always "be polite" and "say something nice" about a gift, even if they don't like it. No wonder kids start slipping in untruths from day to day. They've been told to.

When I contemplated all this, it made me wonder if we as a society truly value honesty as much as we claim, or if we prefer positive interactions and saving face.

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