Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Do Parents Believe Their Own Bullshit?
I read in the paper this morning some news about lying. According to a newly-released study, most parents want kids to do as they say, not as they do, when it comes to not saying what they think.
I, unlike most kids, was raised by parents who generally said what they thought, and what they meant. They expected me to do what they said, and they followed these prescriptions themselves. But that doesn't mean they told me that Santa or the Easter Bunny didn't exist before I had noticed on my own.
Not all lies are created equal. Some, such as great novels, express deeper truths about human emotions, about human nature. And others can be transformed into truth with a little editing. For example, a parent said, "Lying is for bad people and witches; good people and fairies never tell lies." It would be more accurate to say that lying can make people feel bad and even mean, while telling the truth in a fair-minded and cooperative way can make everyone feel good, even if it seems like only a perfect fairy can achieve this.
So it's very important to understand all the key kinds of lies, and the reasons for them, good, bad or forgivable. Lies of commission are usually judged worse than lies of omission. But often people lie because they don't know how to tell the truth in a kind, gentle, simple way. It can be uncomfortable to say things we think will be unwelcome, but with a little guidance and practice it's possible to remind yourself: "Don't Be Nice, Be Real."
The kind of nice we really don't need is telling white lies about things that aren't that important. Or flattery. Or advertising, which leads to telling lies to make money. Eventually, lying too much can lead to losing track of the truth.
Lying will continue to be a subject of moral and philosophical inquiry. It's worth noting that the government can only lie to us be means of individuals who choose to hide the truth and betray the transparency that democracy requires.
Of course, the most devious and stubborn untruths are the ones we believe in all conscious honesty.