Pants on Fire

I didn’t sign up to participate in PAIL’s book club this month, but when I read the discussion questions, one stood out for me like none of the others did.

How do we teach our children not to lie when we all tell white lies all the time?

Objectively, I can’t dispute the validity of the question. Everyone does tell white lies. But all the time? That’s an awful lot of lying.

Much of this US News article from 2009 seems to excuse and even justify lying, but one paragraph expresses a different point of view:

Many experts don’t see much difference between a little lie (telling Grandma you loved the ugly socks) and a big lie (covering up an extramarital affair). “Anything that is not accurate is a lie. You can argue that a lie done to make someone else feel better is relatively minor. But they have an effect. The bottom line is that a lie is a lie,” says Feldman. “That’s the great paradox here. I do believe the more lies, the more degradation. But you can’t stop lies entirely. Society would grind to a halt.”

One of my friends got pregnant in high school, and ended up marrying the father. After they separated a few years later, for reasons lost in the mists of time, I found myself a lot closer to him than I was to her. People disagree all the time, but there was one point on which we never came to a place of agreement, and that was lying. He’d found out that she’d started smoking again after her first pregnancy, and was pretty pissed that she’d lied to him for so long. I couldn’t understand then why it was such a big deal. It wasn’t the smoking that bothered him; it was the lying. I maintained my position that there were degrees of lies, that it was one thing to lie about smoking and another to lie about, say, murder. He claimed that a lie is a lie.

We haven’t spoken for almost eight years now, after I called him out on his misogyny at a party (oops!), but if we did, I’d have to tell him that he was right. A lie is a lie. Several times I’ve almost contacted him just to tell him this, but then I remember he’s not the kind of person who would even entertain the notion that he could possibly be wrong. He would not welcome my acquiescence.

Still, a lie is a lie is a lie is a lie.

You can probably figure out when I came to this conclusion on your own.

Even so, this is the only strongly held opinion I can think of that I’ve made a complete about-face on. It’s more than being a lapsed Catholic, because there’s always the remnants of that indoctrination. There’s the sense of  ‘everything I ever believed was completely wrong.’ It’s a shock.

But now I believe it’s all wrong. It’s wrong to say you like something when you don’t. It’s wrong to give a false compliment. It’s wrong to say you’re watching television when you’re reading a book. They’re all lies, and they all carry the potential for disaster. That sounds a little extreme, but I’m okay with that, because it’s true. If someone gifts you a chicken figurine, and you claim you love it when you really only like it, you could end up with a kitchen full of crappy chicken junk because that person decided you love chickens, forgot they supplied the first one, and volunteered to enable your chicken habit, forcing you to lose an entire room to poultry out of fear of hurting someone’s feelings. That’s a true story. For want of the truth, a kitchen was lost, just as for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.

It takes hard work and dedication to cut out those little white innocent-seeming lies. It’s a daily conscious effort, and it’s a huge burden that Ian has taken on to do the same, for my peace of mind. A little bit for his sanity as well. I can get pretty crazy about a lie. I like to think I’ve gotten better on that front. Opinion, Ian?

Abby and I have had serious, serious conversations about lying. Obviously, she’s at the stage where the answer to ‘did you do that’ is always no. And it irks me. It irks me most of all because I don’t know how to reconcile the fact that she wouldn’t be here without lies with how much I love her. It hurts me so badly when she lies so innocently, and I can’t explain that to her in a way she can understand yet. I don’t blame her for lying. I know she doesn’t do it to hurt me. It’s not the substance of the lie that causes the pain, it’s the lie itself, reminding me of everything I lost to lies. But how can I be upset, when I’ve gained so much in the aftermath of lies?

All I can do is teach her the same thing that it took me so long to explain to Ian. Nothing is worse than a lie. If the knowledge of something will hurt me, the added hurt of a lie on top of that only makes it worse. I would rather be hurt once, now, than be hurt twice as much later. Because lies don’t keep forever. It is far better to be honest and accept the consequences of one sin, that to lie and multiply your wrongs.

How do we teach our children not to lie? The same way we teach them everything else. With knowledge, with patience, with practice. 

With enough love to accept the truth, no matter what form it takes.

3 Comments on “Pants on Fire”

  1. Totally read that section in NurtureShock (I bet you could read most of it free in Amazon Preview). It was my favorite and really helpful in understanding what my 4 year old is up to in learning and learning about lying.

    • April says:

      Yes! I just read a few pages from that section on Amazon. I knew I was in the minority by judging coverup lies as a separate transgression, but good to know I’m responding ‘correctly’ by pointing that out.

      And I totally agree that younger kids with older siblings learn to lie earlier, learned that one in my childcare days.

      I may have to order this book after all, ha!

  2. […] 7) April @ R. Sativus: Pants on Fire […]

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