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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 21-Sep-07


Friday 21-September-07

Persuasion and truth

Children are sometimes delightfully unsubtle in their attempts at persuasion. I read a story recently about two boys in Australia of 8 and 10 who decided to go and see their grandmother. As you do, they just hopped into their father's car and set off down the road. 62 miles later they were spotted and somehow stopped by the police. Their way out of trouble? They hopped over to the back seat of the car and sat there innocently, in their normal seats. Nothing to do with me, sir!

My own children went through early deceptive phases, hiding stolen sweets behind their backs and feigning innocence, but fortunately never did anything as terrifying as taking the car.

Somewhere along the line, children get more subtle, learning how to pull the wool over adult eyes, as well as each those of other children.

Truth and deception are two paths that we choose. Some tread largely on one path, but most of us steer a varying path between the two, perhaps treading more towards truth as we accept social values and realize the pragmatic wisdom of honesty.

An interesting and related factor in childhood development is an early stage where reality and imagination are blurred and truth is whatever you want it to be. Some people never fully get past this stage and are forever stuck in some way in a fantasy netherland. Whilst this world is comforting and malleable on the inside, it is highly incompatible with the outer social reality.

People who retain an unhealthy level of fantasy in their lives can often be spotted by the lies they tell. Whilst they are often very convincing (after all, they totally believe what they are saying), the fantastic and often contradictory nature of their lies is what eventually gives them away.

Interestingly, we can learn from adults and children who first convince themselves. Sales people, for example, sell far more successfully when they believe in the product themselves. Acting can be considered to be a form of lying. And how many managers need to follow the company line? Many of us also have dysfunctional beliefs, from low self-esteem to arrogant domination of others. If we want to change that belief, from the dysfunctional position it can seem like lying.

Few of us spend a day without lying in some sense or another. We of course justify it to ourselves, for example saying that white lies are better than causing undue harm, or that the other person is 'not ready for the truth'.

Lies and lying is, more than anything, a moral question. Truth is largely whatever you believe. When it helps to lie and does not hurt others, then maybe it isn't so bad.

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