Friday, February 29, 2008

A minor theme

A customer came into the store this week. She's a daily regular. I asked her how her day was going and she replied, "Shitty."

"I'm sorry to hear that," I said.

She laughed briefly, then said "Sorry, but that's the truth. I always tell the truth. It's better that way. Don't you think it's always better to tell the truth?"

"No" I replied. "I think it's often better to tell the truth, but it's situational. Sometimes it's actually better to lie."

There was actually an old episode of The Partridge Family that dealt with this issue. I was reminded of it after the customer had left. Everyone was supposed to tell the truth for an entire day, but at some point Danny learns something that would hurt his sister's feelings if he told her the truth. After receiving some counsel from his mom Danny decides to lie and spare his sister's feelings. Jesus, even The Partridge Family understood this concept.

Today I am alerted to an article in New York magazine about when kids learn to lie. Pretty interesting stuff, but this part early on caught my attention:

So when do the 98 percent who think lying is wrong become the 98 percent who lie?

It starts very young. Indeed, bright kids—those who do better on other academic indicators—are able to start lying at 2 or 3. “Lying is related to intelligence,” explains Dr. Victoria Talwar, an assistant professor at Montreal’s McGill University and a leading expert on children’s lying behavior.

Although we think of truthfulness as a young child’s paramount virtue, it turns out that lying is the more advanced skill. A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn’t require. “It’s a developmental milestone,” Talwar has concluded.

This puts parents in the position of being either damned or blessed, depending on how they choose to look at it. If your 4-year-old is a good liar, it’s a strong sign she’s got brains. And it’s the smart, savvy kid who’s most at risk of becoming a habitual liar.

Hmmm, a minor theme from the week.

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