COMMENTARY 890.1: Trust Is More Important Than Truth

by Michael Josephson on July 25, 2014

in Parenting, Family

A study titled “Parenting by Lying” reveals that most parents lie to their children, even though they tell their kids lying is wrong. The parents surveyed said they didn’t feel guilty because their lies were intended to accomplish legitimate parental goals such as getting a child to stop crying or protecting a child from feeling bad or sad.

Reviewing the wide range of casual or careless lies told by parents to change behavior or manipulate emotions supports the observation that “the road to Hell is often paved with good intentions.”

Although honesty is an important virtue, I’m not a truth-telling fanatic. Truth can sometimes be ethically sacrificed for another ethical value. Thus, it’s sometimes OK to praise a gift you dislike or choose kindness over candor.

My bedrock premise is that trust is more important than truth.

Playing with the truth is like playing with fire. So-called “white lies” (lies told for a noble purpose or lies that don’t hurt anyone) are sometimes justified, but telling lies of any sort for any reason is always precarious because of their tendency to destroy trust.

Thus, before you decide that your noble intentions justify a lie, ask yourself: “If the person I lie to finds out the truth, will he or she thank me for caring or feel betrayed?” In other words, is the lie likely to damage trust?

Here are some other guidelines:

  • Be sure the benefit you’re trying to gain by lying is important enough to risk a loss of trust.
  • Don’t lie if you can accomplish your noble goal without lying (remember, necessity is not a fact, it’s an interpretation).
  • Be careful that the lie doesn’t cause serious unintended consequence (e.g., telling a child that a monster will take him or her away could generate serious long-term anxiety).

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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