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Jayanti Tamm Headshot

Why Honesty Really is the Best Policy

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"You're not as pretty as me."

It was a simple, declarative statement. I knew what it meant and how to translate it: my three-year-old, wearing a new, comically puffy cloud of pink tutu for ballet class wanted to be fully admired. To my daughter, the bulging crinoline hands down, was the most exquisite item of clothing that she had ever owned and unquestionably fancier than the sensible, plain leotard worn by her ballet classmate. The girl's mother looked at me expectantly, as if awaiting an intervention, a correction. But for what? Telling the truth?

The recent rash of politicians entangled in scandals share and reinforce the recurring theme that, in the end, what really sunk their battleship was not their particular series of 'indiscretions,' but their deliberate and calculated lies. Their tear-soaked apologies seem to be more for their lies than their transgressions.

My daughter doesn't yet know about lying. When her baby sister screams from the other room and I ask her what happened, she openly presents the truth: that she banged her baby sister's head against the floor. For her blunt honesty, for not concocting a forged tale, it's hard to be angry. I am silently awe-struck at living with someone who doesn't know how to lie, and for whom the truth and nothing but the truth is innate, natural. For as long as I can, I want to preserve this state -- the honest, unadulterated presentation of facts, feelings and deeds.

"I wrote on the walls with a Sharpie."
"This dinner tastes yucky."
"I hid your phone inside the toilet."

Lying, the art of obfuscation is an acquired skill. It is taught, practiced, and mastered. Parents, it turns out, are the master coaches. Of course their lessons are designed to help their children navigate sticky social situations, such as telling Aunt Maggie that they loved the scratchy sweater that she made or telling cantankerous Uncle Fred that they can't wait for his next visit. The social lie -- the white lie -- as everyone knows is designed to ease polite passage through the labyrinth of confusing and often awkward interactions. It aides not only in attaining what one wants but also in avoiding hurtful offenses. Utilized sparingly and strategically, the social lie is viewed as an effective and essential tool

But is the social lie, the one we teach to children a 'gateway' lie? Does it escort them sure-footed into the domain of vaster, deeper lies?

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman."
"I was hiking the Appalachian Trail."
"My system was hacked. Pictures can be manipulated."

After all, the skilled liar, one adept at looking directly into a camera, wagging one's finger, and categorically contorting the truth, had to have started somewhere. As for my daughter, I am in no rush to begin this unseemly facet of her education, the blurry demarcations about when lying is 'wrong' and when it is 'right.' Confusing and chaotic, attempting to navigate her between the murky terrain of being truthful and being deceitful, if I could, I'd avoid it all together. For now, however, I will let her revel in truth -- that some tutus just are prettier than others. It's not an offense to tell the truth. But who knows? I just might be lying.