Do We Teach Our Children to Lie?
As I write this, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the Vice Presidential Chief of Staff under President Bush has been indicted under five counts of lying, perjury and obstructing justice. I do want us to be clear on the meaning of the word “indicted.” It doesn’t mean convicted or proved. It means there is a formal charge against someone for committing a serious criminal offense.
There are many ways in which we lie.
In 1837, Hans Christian Anderson published a fairy tale called “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In it, the emperor is duped by con men into believing that invisible thread would make beautiful clothes. He convinces himself to disbelieve his eyes; his vanity makes him oblivious to the truth. Everyone around him, afraid or wishing to gain favor, tells him to his face that the clothes are beautiful. Privately, they wonder that they can’t see what the emperor can see, or laugh at his vanity. It isn’t until the emperor is parading through town in his underwear that a child loudly and rightly declares that the emperor has no clothes.
Teaching Children to Lie
In the Anderson fable, the mother tries to shush the child before his words reach the emperor’s ears. She is afraid of what will befall her child and herself for offending so mighty a man, regardless of where the truth lies.
And so we teach our own children to lie in many ways. See if you can relate to any of the following as happening to you as a child or, perhaps, something you told your own children.
• You call someone old, fat, ugly or some other “not nice” phrase and you are told people don’t say things like that.
• Your parent’s tell you to tell the person on the phone that they aren’t home.
• Telling the truth about something you did caused your parents to severely punish you.
• You told the teacher you “forgot” your homework when you didn’t do it because you knew you’d get a second chance.
• When someone else was blamed for something you did, you kept quiet.
• Someone who didn’t like you lied about what you did.
• Someone in authority did something wrong and you were told that it didn’t matter because he/she was in charge.
• You were told not to tell the truth because something bad would happen to you.
Each time something like this happens, our children die a little more inside. Their sense of right and wrong is altered and they begin to operate from a defensive mode, not a truth-telling mode.
As we grow, our lies become more elaborate and consistent. Yet each time we lie, either through omission or commission, we move away from the innocence that is our natural gift as children.
Next time you are tempted to tell your child or grandchild that it’s o.k. to avoid the truth in certain circumstances, think about the long-term results of teaching a child to lie.
I wonder what Scooter’s parents taught him.