“Mind & Matter,” by Susan Pinker, columnist. The Wall Street Journal, 1/10/2016.
We have long known that children begin to lie soon after they learn to talk. At age three, 50% of children regularly lie, and by four, 80% commonly do. You did it, I did it, we all did it. Parents are shocked when they discover their children lying, but psychologists see it as a sign of maturity, and not lying can be a cause for concern.
At a young age, lying is not an issue. All children initially assume everyone knows the same things, and lying has no meaning. Only as we mature do we realize individuals know different things, that we know things no one else does, and bending the truth can be to our advantage.
Lying involves two sophisticated skills: First, the liar needs to understand what is in the mind of someone else, what they know and don’t know. The worst blunder is to lie to someone who already knows the truth. The second skill is the ability to plan ahead and curb unwanted actions by others with a lie. Parents often bribe children by agreeing to remove the punishment if they tell the truth, or agree to what the parents think is the truth. (Who then is the greater sinner?) Confession, admitting the truth to minimize punishment, is a major part of religion and law.
The arguments against lying as a moral issue almost always hinge on the practicality of telling the truth. Honesty is the best policy. As Judge Judy often says, if you tell the truth, you don’t need a good memory of what you said earlier.
“Who you gonna believe, woman? Your loving husband, or your lying eyes?” –Chris Rock, describing a husband caught in flagrante delicto.
(I recently saw a similar comment attributed to Leonard “Chico” Marx, the piano-playing brother with the Italian hat. His “Chico” nickname was originally “Chicko,” referring to his notorious, real-life womanizing.)