Requesting Honesty

An old Bloom County Sunday cartoon has Cutter John in his wheelchair dressed as Santa, asking "And what would you like this year?" to Roland-Ann in his lap:

Truth. I’d like a little truth.  Openness .. Forthrightness … Directness.  For once, I’d just like a couple of those. 

Childhood seems to be one long series of adult deceptions.  Lies … Myths … Half-truths … Fibs.  Yesterday I asked my father what a "libido" is.  He said it’s a kid of guinea pig. 

So I think it would be nice, this Christmas, to get just a little, simple, adult honesty for once.  Yes.  It really would. 

Anyway … Thanks for listening, mister Santa Claus.  Please give my best to Mrs Claus, all the elves, and give Rudolph a big kidss just for me.  Good bye!"

By this point, John has his face in his hand, ashamed, and in the next panel says "I quit!"

This raises the obvious question: why don’t kids ask adults for more honesty, once they see that adults often lie? 

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as:
Trackback URL:
  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    As best as I can remember how I thought about the world at that age, adults appeared as fixed features of the world, like rocks or gravity. I don’t think it even occurred to me that asking would have made a difference; and I doubt that it would have. To an adult, children are small noisy robots – they require care, but their squeakings are hardly to be interpreted as moral arguments.

  • http://amnap.blogspot.com/ Matthew C

    To an adult, children are small noisy robots – they require care, but their squeakings are hardly to be interpreted as moral arguments.

    The times, they are a’changing.

    I was raised in a household somewhat like Eliezer. Adults did appear much like fixed features of the world.

    My own children have constantly questioned and challenged authority from a very young age. Refusing to grant their arguments any moral weight was not an option. They will still get the “because I said so” answer occasionally, but it is couched in terms of property rights over the house instead of property rights over the kids. Looking at the children of my peers, I see similarities in most of the families. Anecdotally, today’s kids as a whole appear to defer far less to authority than my generation. This morning I received an email from my son, asking me to donate to NYRA, of which he is a member.

    There is a backlash against the “erosion of parental authority”, but I am not sure that the cats can be put back into the bag. . .

  • http://amnap.blogspot.com/ Matthew C

    Also, access to the internet probably means that all parental conspiracies to keep their children uninformed about reality are hopelessly doomed.

  • Kyle

    Not quite fair Matthew C.

    Indeed, most of the kids right now don’t expect their opinions to be ignored. Perhaps that’s cultural (TV in the 70s vs now?), or social (Monica did it?), or something else. However, kids respond very well to parents, and the primary reason kids don’t respond well now to ignoring their opinions is because the adults don’t want them to and don’t act in such a way as to require it.

    Especially interesting to note the behavior patterns of kids with parents who are divorced and one much more strict (“because I said so”) than the other.

  • Doug S.

    Another consideration: if the kids demanded that the adults be more honest, would the kids be expected to reciprocate? 😉

  • Matt C (a different one)

    I’m with Eliezer. I doubt most kids would think of asking at all.

    I’m not sure most kids are too fussed about honesty as a principle anyway. I suspect most kids are more interested in dishonesty in practice. How to lie, how to tell if you’re being lied to, when it is acceptable to lie, how to deal with getting caught, etc.

  • Keith Elis

    By the time a kid is sophisticated enough to notice the pattern of parental lying he has also oberved a more powerful rule: demanding something of a parent invites additional demands from the parent. It is a better strategy for him to retain information on adult lying and use it at a later time to provide counterexamples to the ‘lying is naughty’ argument accompanying restrictive punishments for fibbing. If kids seek to minimize parental interference in their lives, then (other things being equal) this is the optimal use of such information. Using the information to moralize on parental integrity deficiencies is counterproductive.

    Keith

  • Bernard Guerrero

    MattC,

    “I suspect most kids are more interested in dishonesty in practice. How to lie, how to tell if you’re being lied to, when it is acceptable to lie, how to deal with getting caught, etc.”

    That sounds about right. My older daughter (age 6) has often followed up getting caught in a lie with “How did you know?” I suspect this is not just a detached, clinical interest on her part. :^)

  • http://notebuyer.livejournal.com Arnold Williams

    That is the challenge of adolecence: to figure out which things your parents forbade you that you can do without consequences when you’re out of their sight, and which things your parents forbade you when they were speaking as a conduit for the values of the society you live in.

  • _Felix

    Keith said:
    “demanding something of a parent invites additional demands from the parent.”

    I recognise that effect, and had forgotten it. To ask your parent to yield or reform themselves in some way makes them feel as if you are getting something for nothing, and they try to counterbalance this by extracting some concession in return. Children’s attempts to criticise their parents are discouraged by this atmosphere of score-keeping, in which the status quo counts as nil-nil. Telling your parent you don’t like their behaviour is one thing, but getting them to swallow the idea that they ought to change for moral reasons, with no balance on the score sheet, is a rhetorical task beyond the ability of most children.

    So, the answer to the question “why don’t kids ask” is “because it’s too difficult to be persuasive”.