Two more chapters, on honesty and cheating, from the book on strengthening the characters of boys, "The Men They Will Become," are available on this site.
The gist of the author's argument is that both honesty and cheating have to do with trust. But mostly parents and teachers, despite our best intentions, fail to promote the former and to discourage the latter. This is because of our ignorance of children's deepest strivings for connection and their basic human rights, similar to those that we have encoded into our constitutional protections and legal principles. Too often we neglect these at home and in school, with unfortunate consequences.
In the honesty chapter the author tries to demonstrate that "honesty is a complex and subtle subject, not so much an end in itself as a means of being responsible and respectful to the needs of others and of oneself. When honesty is at issue, there is usually something about the situation that makes being honest an act of courage. It isn't easy to be honest. Often the easy way is some version of dishonesty, which is why the dishonest way is so frequently taken.
"Honesty is a principal ingredient in any establishment of trust. One person can't trust another deeply without believing that the interaction between them will be carried on at a high level of honesty. Trustful relations can bear the occasional white lie to be sensitive to the feelings of others, but not habitual dishonesty. Beyond the damage it does in specific situations, the reason we all are anxious about dishonesty is that it erodes trust. What misrepresentation of the truth will the person who is known to have been dishonest next put forth? When? For what motive?"
In the chapter on cheating, the author closes with the following observation: "The great leap in trust possible in adolescence or later adulthood is for an individual to become trustworthy individually—even when it is not reciprocated. Trust has to be reciprocal in infancy or the infant develops basic mistrust. In childhood, trust is still basically reciprocal in the service of many ends of varying value. But an individual can decide to strive for general trustworthiness. Such an individual would choose not to cheat in financial matters, taxes, or professional responsibilities because he couldn't do so without breaking trust with someone, maybe someone he doesn't even know.
"I believe males get to this highest level of trustworthiness only when they are inspired to it by encountering someone who embodies it. It is a level of character that is much more effectively caught than taught."
Other chapters on the Web site address the following themes of male development: Discipline and Punishment, Self-Control, Teasing and Bullying, Early Adolescence, Late Adolescence, and Play and Sports.
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Submitted by: Eli H. Newberger, M.D.
Submitted on: 10-Dec-2003