What is honesty? I’ve written about it other places. Jeremy Rabbit’s Honesty Pie tells children what it is, and Character Education 101, my free e-course for educators, tells teachers the meaning of honesty. Many people, however, don’t really know what honesty is.
This past weekend, as I scanned TV program listings to find good entertainment, I saw a movie title that read: “Between Truth and Lies”. I had no interest in the movie, did not watch it, and know nothing about its plot – but the title raised a question in my mind. Did the writer mean for us to think there is a middle ground between truth and lies? Did he or she think there is a zone in which we deal with neither the truth nor lies?
Some people do believe this. I recently corresponded with two teachers who seemed to believe it. They believed that we cannot know truth, so we are constantly living between the two, trying to determine what truth is.
If that seems simplistic to you, let me offer a simplistic question to go with it. If we cannot know truth, is there really such a thing as lying? To believe that someone is telling me a lie is to assume I have knowledge of what is not truth. If I recognize what is not truth, that recognition can only exist because I know what truth is.
On the one hand, if I _can_ know truth, I know there is such a thing as a lie. On the other hand, if I _cannot_ know truth, I cannot understand such a thing as a lie. The use of lie detectors becomes a farce, doesn’t it? Judges’ attempts in court to understand who is telling the truth become mere exercises in futility, don’t they? Parents and teachers should – if we cannot know truth – view lying, cheating, and stealing as acceptable behavior, because children cannot know better.
Teaching honesty as a character trait can only be effective when the educator under girds that teaching with a clear understanding of two things: we all can know truth clearly; there is no middle ground between truth and lies.
A study published a year and a half ago shows that our brains know truth, and react to the crystal clear difference between truth and lies. Researchers asked six volunteers to shoot a toy gun and then lie about what they did. Three other volunteers were told to shoot and then tell the truth. The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study images of the volunteers’ brains while they were giving their statements.
Those MRI brain scans showed that there was a significant difference in brain activity! The lying group used seven areas of the brain, while the honest group used only four areas. In other words, lying took more brain effort than telling the truth. In addition, lying called on different areas of the brain to do its dirty work. The brains knew clearly what truth is, and they knew what the lie was. The brains knew there was no middle ground.
Teaching honesty as a character trait must make it clear to young people, no matter their age, that a lie is _any_ attempt to deceive in words or actions, for even one moment. When we make not the slightest attempt to deceive, we are being honest.