Character Building - Truthfulness
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
PARENTS are distressed to find that their children seem addicted to falsehood from their earliest years. Some psychologists have gone so far as to assert that it is an innate and universal vice; but theorists are often wrong. A child which has been treated with frankness, has not been too sternly repressed, or frightened by a discipline it could not under-stand, is candor and sincerity itself: indeed it is often too can-did, telling with an embarrassing frankness of things it has seen or heard. How imaginative children invent weird tales, and relate them as truths, has been elsewhere described; but it is not long, under patient tuition, before they recognize and confess these "make-believe" yarns. Real falsehood, intentional deception, is born only of fear, or else is imitative. There are exceptions, of course, to be dealt with according to each case, but that is the rule. The boy's mischievous misquotation: "A lie is an abomination in the sight of the Lord, but a very present help in time of trouble," exactly states youth's doctrine before strong principles have become his guide of action. The conclusion is forced upon us that real lying in young children is in most cases the parents' fault rather than their own.
"If treated with kindness," declares M. Compayré, a French student of juvenile development, "the child remains trusting and sincere; if terrified by our severity he dissembles and he lies. `Who has broken this piece of furniture?' we cry out in anger. The little culprit, frightened, answers, `It was not I.' It would be better, says Miss Edgeworth, to be re-signed to having things broken than to put the child's sincerity to the test. As, unfortunately, this advice is often neglected, as too many parents scold unceasingly, right or wrong, the child covers his weakness with falsehood as with a buckler." Again, your little one must not be expected to be truthful unless you are. If he overhears you, or your friends and servants, making deceptions, telling white lies, if not black ones, he will naturally conclude he may do the same to hide a fault or avoid an inconvenience. Even more important is it that you should be entirely truthful with him. Keep your promises to the letter, or explain your failure to his satisfaction. "Some persons say they never lie except to children. By this they mean, of course, that they imagine a lie to a child is sometimes defensible because it seems necessary. But," says Mrs. Allen, "this is a policy which arises from timidity rather than wisdom. There is always some way of telling the truth which is fitted to the child. . . Since we are very particular that children shall tell the truth to us, and since we find it exceedingly inconvenient and exasperating if they do not, it is as well to show them by our own example what we mean by always telling the truth."
That mother was happy who overheard a playmate say to her little daughter, "Let's go and ask your mother; she won't fool us. "
Truthfulness is closely akin to "Honesty" so we refer the reader to references given under that head. Besides this we call attention to "The Boy Who Never Told a Lie," in Volume I, and "Trial," in Volume III. "Wee Willie Winkie," in Volume IV, is a brave little truth-teller. In Volume IX read the life-sketches of Washington and Carlyle. In Volume X turn to the article " Justice and Truth."