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  • Reverend James Squire

Are Golfers the Most Truthful People in the World

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

I don’t play golf, but there is something that we can learn from the better angels that walk from hole to hole. Dan Ariely is the author of “The Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone Especially Ourselves.” He dives deeply into truth and lies.

He writes about the 1925 U.S. Open. The golfer, Bobby Jones, noticed that his ball moved ever so slightly as he prepared for his shot from the rough. No one saw, no one would ever have known, but he called the stroke on himself and went on to lose the match. When people discovered what he’d done and reporters began to flock to him, Jones famously asked them not to write about the event, saying “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.” The point was that Bobby Jones would have known. Unfortunately, the culture doesn’t encourage this kind of thinking particularly among politicians who move from insider trading to spending government money on non-government things.

Ariely makes several key points. We assume that others are telling the truth because that takes less energy to do, but if a person has a reputation as a liar or cheater, we assume the opposite.

We find ourselves caught in a dilemma where “we want to feel good about ourselves but also benefit from dishonest behavior.” Simply put what is the cost/risk/benefit analysis of our actions.

We lie to ourselves and to others with “little white lies”. The truth may not seem as exciting so we add value added examples to our stories. We also don’t tell others how we really feel about what they are wearing. This would defy social graces that have us say not what will make another feel badly.

There are two ways that can help us come down on the side of truth. Ariely did a study that people who read the 10 commandments before an opportunity to cheat seldom did so compared to a control group who did not read the 10 commandments. He is a great advocate of having short phrases that are quickly reviewed in our minds before we are tempted to lie such as “honesty is the best policy” or if your school has an honor code to write the required statement “I will not lie, cheat or pass someone else’s work on as my own.” At the top of your test.

Second, there is a phrase that I came across years ago called “O happy guilt”. It was used first during the medieval ages but is certainly true today. We would do anything to avoid guilt, rejection, and vulnerability. Guilt can be a powerful force in having us tell the truth or not to cheat. Unfortunately, we have a counter thought in place that works against happy guilt. “Everybody does it so I must do it to make things equal and fair.”

My father used an expression that helps to bolster the short phrase and O happy guilt solutions to lying or cheating. He was a man with a 6th grade education and a Ph.D in how to live doing the hard right and not the easy wrong. He would say “your name is all that you have at the end of the day. Don’t do anything to smear it.”

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