To Armin Brott:
I recently read your "Ask Mr. Dad" column in our local newspaper entitled "The Truth About Lying" in which you were asked about a "9-year-old son who is a habitual liar ... [who] fibs even about the smallest, most insignificant things." You wrote, "Now's also a good time to talk about why honesty is important. Trust (in my book) is the most important quality in any relationship, personal or professional." Yet in the very next paragraph, you show that you don't truly believe in the value of honesty and trust: "Another time, you may want to talk about some situations when, despite the general rule of honesty being the best policy, it's appropriate to stretch the truth (aka telling 'little white lies' or 'words of kindness.') Sometimes being honest can hurt other people's feelings, so we want to spare them pain or embarrassment by circumventing the truth (this goes beyond, 'do these jeans make me look fat.') Have him come up with some examples on his own, and talk about the difference between lying to protect yourself, and hiding the truth to be kind and sensitive to others. Admittedly, it's a thin and not-always-clear line, but hopefully, as your son grows, he'll learn to distinguish both sides of that line."
You talk out of both sides of your mouth. You first say that honesty is important, but then you say that honesty isn't always important. You first say that trust is the most important quality in a relationship, but then you say that there are instances in which it is appropriate for this trust to be violated. The paragraph on "white lies" vitiates the paragraph on the value of honesty and trust. You claim to have integrity, but you are a hypocrite. Your talk of honesty and trust is just a bunch of hot air. There is no such thing as a harmless "little white lie." All lies without exception are a violation of trust. Lying to spare someone pain or embarrassment might be appropriate in your perverted mind, but such lying is just as wrong and is as much of a violation of trust as any "black lie."
To teach children that it is okay to lie in some circumstances is to teach moral relativism. Think of the situation to which you were responding. As long as the child can justify in his mind that his lying "about the smallest, most insignificant things" is sparing his parents and others "pain or embarrassment," he can just go on lying. If his parents take your advice, all they are going to be doing is teaching him how to justify lying, not teaching him the value of honesty and trust. "Honesty is important, but ..." "Trust is the most important quality in any relationship, but ..." The "buts" mean that honesty and trust really aren't all that important.
It is very appropriate that I am writing to you on Christmas Day, a holiday that is characterized by parents' premeditated and willful lying to impressionable young children about Santa Claus. They justify their lying by saying that it "makes Christmas fun for the kids." What they are actually doing is breaking the bond of trust they have with their children. Some children, when they find out their parents have lied to them, "get over it" and go on to perpetuate the lie with their own children. And some children will never view their relationship with their parents the same again, always taking what their parents say with a grain of salt. Did you know that this actually traumatizes some children? These children, who once trusted their parents, come to find out that their parents (with society's help) foisted a premeditated lie upon them, and they are devastated. The very people they thought they could trust the most have turned out not only to be liars, but to have lied to them, their own children.
I am a father of six children, and they very much appreciate the fact that I have not violated their trust by lying to them about Santa Claus. They very much appreciate the fact that I do not think that any lying, including "white lying," is ever justified. How strong do you think that bond of trust is between me and my children?
'Tis the season to be lying, and while you project a thin veneer of integrity by saying that honesty and trust are important, you undermine and thus destroy what little integrity you claim to have by justifying some kinds of lying. May all the fathers with real integrity see through your relativist perversion and truly promote the value of honesty and trust by telling their children that all lying without exception is wrong and is a violation of trust.
Marc D. Carpenter
E-mails, Forums, and Letters