My rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Pinocchio would not admit
The wrong thing he had done.
And he kept on telling fibs–
He didn’t stop with one.
To speak the truth is hard sometimes,
But in the end you’ll see
That honesty, without a doubt,
Is the best policy!
Except, of course, that’s complete bullshit. These “never lie” morals are always nonsensical; there are certain times to lie. Or at least, there is a multitude of people who feel that way.
See, that’s the thing about morality. A) Your ideals and your reality are two very separate things. B) Your morality is not the same as my morality, or my neighbor’s morality, or an Italian’s morality, or an astronaut’s morality, or whoever’s morality. Each person has their own moral code, and no one’s moral code is better than anyone else’s.
So while some people may try to adhere to “never lie”, there are immensely more people who would say that “honesty whenever possible” is the best possible compromise. Let’s look at some examples:
National Security: Every government keeps secrets, and these secrets can extend into cover-ups–that is, lies. Claiming a top-secret military aircraft is something else while the craft is classified? That’s a lie, but most people approve of it. Undercover cops pretending to be regular shoppers to catch a criminal? That’s a lie, but most people would say it’s for the greater good. Etcetera, etcetera.
Lying to Children: Do or did your children believe in Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny? Maybe Cupid(s) or the Tooth Fairy? Those are all lies, yet most Americans would say those are a culturally integral part of being a child. (And most cultures have their equivalents, too.)
Lying as a Cushion: Ever hear the one about an old dog being “sent to the farm”? Adults recognize that as a euphemism for dying or euthanization, but when spoken to children who will take it literally, it’s a lie. Many people believe it’s kinder than trying to teach a very young child to cope with death before they’re ready.
Lies of Omission: Ever tell someone you’re going somewhere, but you give a vague or half-truth answer because they might hassle about the truth? That’s a lie of omission–when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconceptionwhen an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception[, and] includes failures to correct pre-existing misconceptions. Most people would say that’s no big deal.
I could go on, as there are many different kinds of lies, and each can be justified by a certain mindset or situation. Some people would say some or all of these justifications are the result of a guilty conscience. Other people would say that such justifications are the result of conditional circumstances. That’s just it: everyone has a different opinion of lying, of what constitutes a “bad” lie, and of which circumstances warrant or allow “good” lies.
I have to admit that with this in mind, I can find fault in most morals that touch the subject of lying. I completely understand that young children might need their morals presented to them in the least complex way possible if they are to understand. But that bugs me, too: if the child isn’t mature enough to understand the complex issue, perhaps offering them a simplistic solution to hold them over until they’re ready for the complexity is doing more harm than good. For the most obvious example, think about the “no lying ever!” moral will look on the day that the Santa conversation goes down. The parent is confessing to a lie they told for the child’s benefit, and yet the child is suddenly faced not only with the realization that there’s no magical figure who gives them presents on Christmas–it’s just their parents–but also that their parents are lying… something these parents, if tried to teach the “no lying ever!”, claimed was reprehensible. That’s a tough situation to be in, and is going to create a lot more difficulty than if the parents had simply waited for the day the child can understand their parents’ beliefs about lying.
So books like this bug me. Why go out of your way to teach a moral that you’re just going to have to unteach later?