People are basically honest
May 23, 2013
When I was a kid my parents always taught me that it was important to tell the truth. Whenever I was caught lying I was severely punished, but still, when confronted with a cookie I had taken without permission, unless I still had the cookie in my hand, I would deny it every time.
Like most kids, I understood that lying was bad and honesty was the best policy, but I would lie like a rug if I thought it would get me out of trouble. It's been my experience that if a kid is old enough to say even a few words, they are old enough to deny throwing their stuffed bunny at you, even when the two of you are alone in the car. Kids lie.
I grew up with three sisters, I went to school with hundreds of kids, eventually I had four kids and six grandkids and my wife will tell you that I was a child myself for about 30 years, so I'm a bit of an expert on childish behavior and I'm here to tell you that kids lie.
I'm not a child psychologist, so I can't tell you why your sweet little toddler will look you in the eye and sincerely tell you that he did not get into the chocolate chip cookie dough when you can see it still caked between his fingers, smeared all over his face and, inexplicably, in his hair and behind his ears; but I can tell you that there's a ninety percent chance that he will lie.
What's more, most kids are more than willing to offer up a patsy to take the blame for their transgression. My oldest son, Dale, started blaming his little brother for things from the time we told him that his new brother's name was Ryan; about a month before Ryan was born.
We would walk into a room and find Dale alone standing over a broken lamp and before we even had a chance to ask what happened, Dale would deny any involvement in breaking the lamp and, with deep regret for having to rat on his brother, he'd suggest that we investigate Ryan because he had seen him earlier throwing rocks in the house.
Dale once tried to convince me that it was Ryan's fault that he had gotten a D on his report card. Intrigued, I asked how Ryan could have possibly caused him to get a D in math. After uttering a series of "Ummms" while he cooked up a story, Dale explained that Ryan snored so loud that he could not sleep well at night and, since math was boring, he couldn't be expected to stay awake while they were explaining long division.
I'm not saying that kids are evil just because they're willing and capable of lying with the skill and ease of politicians or used car salesmen; kids are just trying to get out of trouble and have to be taught that it's wrong to lie.
From a kid's point of view, telling the truth and getting punished for breaking a lamp is like getting a shot, eating cottage cheese or learning geometry; they're all things that you would never do on your own but grown-ups make you do them because, in the long run, they're good for you.
Theoretically, as we mature we begin to understand abstract concepts like honor and delayed gratification. Most of us start doing grown-up stuff like going to work, paying our bills and we're honest enough to admit that we still won't eat cottage cheese.
The truth is that, even after we're grown up, most of us still lie. Politicians, bankers and other criminals maliciously lie for money.
Most of us are basically honest but we tell ourselves it's OK to lie when it doesn't hurt anyone or if she doesn't know your real name.
When a kid lies it usually makes sense, they'll lie to avoid a spanking or to get an extra cookie. Adults lie about meaningless stuff like our height, weight or age to perfect strangers who don't care how tall, heavy or old we are to begin with. Sometimes adults will lie because they had an extra cookie or to convince someone to spank them; its crazy!
Still, I believe most people are basically honest; then again I believed that Ryan wrote Dale's name in the wet concrete outside their school, so I could be wrong.
Rick Seley, an award-winning columnist, has taken a week off, so we present one of his favorite columns from 2011.