Character Corner: Honesty — musings, quotes, and parenting tips from


Laura remembers feeling humiliated when, as a child, she was caught in a lie.  But her daughter Julie, age eight, seems almost indifferent when confronted with evidence that she has been dishonest. Last week, for example, Julie went to her friend Anna’s house two doors down without permission.  She turned up home an hour later, saying she had been in the back yard the whole time.


Laura knew otherwise (she had called Anna’s mom), and she asked probing questions. But Julie stuck to the lie.  When finally confronted with the evidence, Julie just screamed that Laura always spied on her and didn’t let her do anything.

What is honesty?

Honesty is saying what we know or suspect to be real, even when we don’t like the consequences. It is also much more.

Because most deception is actually self deception, true honesty requires that we recognize our natural human penchant for fooling ourselves. In particular, honesty requires that we guard against self-serving biases: our tendency to seek confirmation for what we already believe while ignoring contradictory evidence; our tendency to put blame on others and take credit for ourselves; our tendency to think that what is good for us is good for the world and even to make the gods themselves in our own image.

Honesty is a lifetime process of catching ourselves in falsehood and, however reluctantly, turning away from it.

Five Quotes to contemplate, discuss and share.

I am different from Washington; I have a higher, grander standard of principle.  Washington could not lie.  I can lie, but I won’t. 
–Mark Twain

We tell lies when we are afraid… afraid of what we don’t know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us.  But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger.
–Tad Williams

We must all beware the very real and understandable human tendency to ignore or subvert facts, and findings of science, that discomfort us for reasons of ideology, politics, religion, or personal taste.   
–William Brody, President of Johns Hopkins

When you stretch the truth, watch out for the snapback. 
–Bill Copeland

The truth needs so little rehearsal. 
–Barbara Kingsolver

Bringing it home to your kids

1.  Rather than focusing on lies, focus on trust, integrity, and self awareness, the virtues you are working to build.

2. Don’t “test” your child’s honesty.  When you know he or she has committed an infraction, simply state what you know to be true rather than probing for a confession.  Then move on to talking about natural and logical consequences or motives and feelings.  Or, if emotions are too heated, suspend the conversation till all can calm down.

3. Preschoolers frequently blend fantasy and reality.  Rather than treating this as a lie, label it imagination:  “Wouldn’t it be nice if that were true?”  “That would be so fun!”  You can turn it into a game with an even wilder story of your own.

4. All cultures sanction “white lies.”  Don’t expect perfect self disclosure from your children any more than you do from yourself.  If you want honesty about things that matter though, do make trust a core family value.

5. Model a balanced pragmatic approach to personal faults.  Perfectionism is the enemy of honest self appraisal.

6. Acknowledge how difficult honesty can be at times.  Reward honesty with respect.  Partner with your child in problem solving to rebuild trust.

photo by justonlysteve

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