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Learning to Lie

  • Posted on March 28, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Lying is a learned behavior. Unfortunately, kids learn this pretty young. They learn it from their parents, from other kids, and from the entertainment industry. Even lessons about not lying can, in fact, teach people to lie.

For many years, Willy would tell us the truth, whatever it was, and we would reward this behavior. Brandon learned to lie much earlier, but he also learned that telling a lie and getting caught was cause for added punishment. Telling the truth, even if it was a “bad” truth, meant leniency; sometimes his punishment was limited to a lecture. Still, Brandon would try to lie when he thought he could get away with it. I’m sure some of the time it worked, but not always.

Now, Willy’s learned to lie. He has not, however, learned to discern when he can and cannot “get away with it” very well. He threw up on Sunday, but told Mark that he hadn’t. He got caught because he didn’t clean the vomit from the toilet seat.

First, we talked about why he lied. Willy is disappointed because the school year has been extended due to too many snow days this winter. He didn’t want to get another day added on to the end of his school year, so he wasn’t willing to miss a day of class because he was sick. So, he lied.

We explained the faultiness of his logic—missing a day due to illness does not add another day of school on at the end of the school year; only snow days can do that—and then we talked about lying. Willy still isn’t comfortable lying, so it was an easy lecture.

But it just goes to show that learning to lie is part of our culture. Even when the internal inclination is to tell the truth, we try to protect our interests by lying. We spend our childhood learning this skill. If we’re lucky, we will spend our adulthood learning to unlearn it.