White Lies & Shades of Grey1 Apr 2012
May I just say, gentle reader, that you are looking particularly lovely today. Yes sir, even you; there’s a winning smile above that strong chiseled chin. On an entirely unrelated note, the British are apparently getting less honest.
Essex University have conducted a survey, asking people to divulge their probable actions in varying circumstances and they say that, since the last time they did it, we are definitely more relaxed about fibbing. If you can believe Essex University, that is.
They cite among others, findings that we are less likely to report damaging a parked car, or to hand in money that we find in the street and more likely to lie on a job application.
Now it so happens that Mrs J’s loyal and innocent charabanc has recently acquired overnight, a substantial dent in its side.
The lack of any note admitting culpability suggests either a self-inflicted wound which I deem unlikely, or the work of someone whose parentage is far from certain and for whom the death penalty should be merely the first and easiest element of an eternal and excruciating punishment.
So on that topic you might say that I agree with the University’s findings. But to use the other two as evidence of increasing dishonesty seems to me a little harsh.
Consider: in Dickensian London, should Master Wenderley Pecksniff—a young gentleman of good family but vexatious means—find fifty pounds in the street he could set himself up for life with a regular income and a queue of eligible debutantes awaiting his summons.
These days ‘Wendy’ could just about afford to take one of them out for a curry, assuming debutantes still exist and eat curries if they do. So a decreasing likelihood to report such a find is less about increasing dishonesty and more about inflation.
Or what about electronic money that mysteriously appears in your bank account and hasn’t come from anywhere? Just a few extra zeroes created by a fl u-ridden computer. No one has lost out; there is no victim. Besides which, zeroes are mathematically nothing.
So, strictly speaking, there’s nothing to report. Is it dishonest to keep what doesn’t even exist?
To paraphrase Monopoly’s Community Chest; ‘Bank error in your favour, collect as much as you can before anyone twigs’?
Well, contrary to the survey’s assertion, and despite banks being currently seen as the devil’s playground such that embarking on an epic sterling splurge could be argued as striking a blow for righteousness, I think most of us, while yearning to spend like a drunken sailor, would own up.
(Though if this does ever happen to you my advice is to watch the extra zeroes disappear, then sue the pants off the bank for mental distress).
Surely, though, there must be a lower limit on the amount we should report while still qualifying as honest. The police are publicly funded, so make extra paperwork for them and, while you might save someone ten quid, you cost the country a hundred. And currently that could make the difference between UK plc staying afloat or sinking beneath the waves we formerly ruled.
Which is why telling porkies on a job application is also not necessarily a sign of rampant moral decline. A spare job, today, is rarer than the first class honours degrees from Oxford which so many of us claim to possess.
Besides, don’t companies want staff with initiative?
I don’t mean to excuse lying. I don’t hold with the view that honesty is precious and should therefore be used sparingly.
No. Honesty is definitely the best policy, except in politics where policies and honesty have, at best, a nodding acquaintance. But to most rules there are sensible exceptions. Need I say more than “Does my bum look big in this?”
For the most part, therefore, I think we remain a jolly honest bunch and a good job too. Lying causes stress—that’s how lie detectors work—and stress prematurely ages you. So honesty and goodness will leave you healthier, radiant and wrinkle free.
Which, gentle reader, must be why you are all looking so gorgeous today. And which is why everything in this month’s column is absolutely true, except for this sentence.