COMMENTARY 868.1: Are Cynics Right? Is Lying Really Necessary?

by Michael Josephson on February 21, 2014

in Commentaries, Honesty, The Nature of Character

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What do you think? In today’s society, does a person have to lie or cheat at least occasionally to succeed?

The question isn’t whether occasional liars and cheats sometimes get away with dishonesty; we all have to agree with this. The question is whether you believe people can succeed if they are not willing to lie or cheat.

Those who believe lying and cheating have become necessities are cynics. A recent study of more than 10,000 people by the Josephson Institute of Ethics shows that the younger you are, the more likely you are to be cynical. This is important because cynics, regardless of their age, are far more likely to lie and cheat in both their personal and work lives.

The correlation between cynicism and age is striking. Only 11% of people over 40 are cynics compared to 47% of youngsters 17 and under and 35% of those 18-24 (19% of those 25-40 are cynics).

This turns out to be a big deal because cynicism is a powerful predictor of conduct.

People who believe lying and cheating are a necessary part of success are nearly four times as likely to deceive their boss (31% v. 8%), three times more likely to inflate an insurance (6% vs. 2%) or expense claim (13% v. 4%), or  lie to a customer (22% vs. 7%). They are also one-and-a half-times more likely to cheat on their taxes (20% vs. 13%).

Cynicism is a toxic condition, but the antidote isn’t just hopeful optimism; it’s hard truth.

Sometimes cheaters do prosper and sometimes it’s harder to succeed with integrity, but the latter is always possible.

In fact, lots of honest people are highly successful. I’ll bet if you try you can name a few.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Wood February 6, 2013 at 7:18 am

I appreciated the candor and hard questions asked in this article. No, I believe there are other ways than lying to deal with discrepancies we all face each day, whether in the workplace or schools. If we are in a situation where we do feel lying is the only way, maybe that is an indication that we are in the wrong place, either interpersonally or introspectively. What are the expectations of those around me? Is it reasonable? Do I have those “others” around me that are both supportive and honest with whom I can collaborate to solve problems? If not, maybe I am in the wrong place. If so, be thankful and hold yourself accountable to the trust of those who believe in you.

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Dan Domberg February 8, 2013 at 5:30 am

Lying gains someone only a short-term benefit. When caught…and we mostly do get caught…then distrust, dishonor and anger are the remnants. Even those who lie don’t like to be lied to.

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Kathy February 8, 2013 at 10:23 am

It is clear to me and it seems that life is simpler than people make it because there are principles that do not allow us to lie (I’m not talking about white lies that protect people’s feelings like, “Yes, I do like your new haircut.”) It is never right to lie or cheat. I’m not saying it’s 100% easy to do, but it is 100% easy to know. It is of course for your reputation that you want to be honest with others but also for yourself, because here is where self-esteem reinforces itself. Not really from how others see you but how you ARE in the world. We all know right from wrong but we don’t always want to do the right thing. Too bad because I believe when you strive to always do the right thing, you are a happy person with no (or very few) regrets. It’s hard sometimes to be like that because so many people will disappoint you but it’s the only way I can or want to be.

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Keith February 21, 2014 at 10:35 am

I would think that if more parents had their children participate in Girl Guides, Brownies, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts where honesty and integrity are foremost, you would probably in the long term see a decrease in lying, cheating and dishonesty.

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george February 28, 2014 at 7:23 am

Honesty starts with leadership, and those who lead our country today have established a pattern of lying and whatever else to further their agenda; so much so that it is becoming a part of our culture. The saddest part in all this is our children and grand children will grow up believing that all the dishonesty, cheating and whatever else our leaders can come up with is okay and the so called norm; I wonder what the landscape of our country will be in twenty years or so!!!
George

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