A Lot of People Lie a Little
“Why We Lie” is an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal from last May by Dan Ariely, author of The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. It exposes an ugly truth about human nature: that people tend to cheat—but only to the degree that they can still consider themselves honest. He writes,
Over the past decade or so, my colleagues and I have taken a close look at why people cheat, using a variety of experiments and looking at a panoply of unique data sets—from insurance claims to employment histories to the treatment records of doctors and dentists. What we have found, in a nutshell: Everybody has the capacity to be dishonest, and almost everybody cheats—just by a little. Except for a few outliers at the top and bottom, the behavior of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations. On the one hand, we want to benefit from cheating and get as much money and glory as possible; on the other hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people. Sadly, it is this kind of small-scale mass cheating, not the high-profile cases, that is most corrosive to society.
As Herbert Armstrong said, “Human nature wants to be good—or think it is good—but it does not want to do good.”
This widespread, small-potatoes cheating has an enormously corrosive effect on society. It makes you shake your head to think about it.
In short, very few people steal to a maximal degree, but many good people cheat just a little here and there. We fib to round up our billable hours, claim higher losses on our insurance claims, recommend unnecessary treatments and so on.
It reminded me of Dennis Leap’s terrific article “To Lie or Not to Lie.”