Communicating our questions, hopes, and fears in prayer makes them—even to ourselves—more open and clear…
- Jimmy Carter
I’ve long been a fan of Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist who explores why people act the way they do. His latest book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, is about how we can do wrong yet still think of ourselves as good people.
Ariely’s research indicates that much as we’d like to believe otherwise, very few people cheat a lot; the bigger problem is that a lot of us cheat a little. We fudge the truth, slightly exaggerating costs or mildly overestimating expenses. And because the amounts involved are small, we tell ourselves that bringing home pens from the office, sampling the grapes at the store or inflating the insurance claim a bit doesn’t really count.
Going further, Ariely also uncovered a useful fact: When people are reminded up-front of what it means to be moral, they are far more likely to be honest. So, for example, when students sign an honor code right before taking a test, cheating drops. People asked to recall the Ten Commandments are more honest, too—even if they are atheists and even if they can only remember half the list!
For those who seek to “love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19), I think this research tells us two things. First, we need to admit that we have a tendency to rationalize our behavior, and that we’re not always 100% honest. And second, it’s a good idea to remind ourselves daily of how God expects us to act. Because, honestly, we forget.
Julia Attaway is a freelance writer, homeschooler and mother of five. She is the editor of Daily Guideposts: Your First Year of Motherhood, a book of devotions for first-time moms. She lives in New York.