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FIRST-PERSON: Can you believe it?

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Americans are cheating and lying more than ever, David Callahan reports in his book, “The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead.” Callahan, co-founder of the public policy think tank Demos in New York City, also found that those who practice deceit are doing so with less guilt.

Callahan’s research confirms findings from a variety of sources.

A 1998 USA Today survey found that dishonesty is a routine practice for a majority of Americans. While not a daily activity, most who participated in the newspaper’s poll indicated they kept their lying to “insignificant levels” –- two to three times a week. It does not take a mathematical genius to calculate that the average American is practicing deceit 104 to 156 times a year.

In 1994, Money Magazine reported that 32 percent of U.S. citizens said they would not report $2,000 in cash earned in a sideline job.

Louis Harris and Associates conducted a survey in 2000 that found American workers take an accumulated 200 million sick days a year. The majority of those calling in ill admitted to faking it.

In 1991, while he was a junior at Rutgers University, Michael Moore (not the Michael Moore who makes deceptive “documentaries” for fun and profit) authored “Cheating 101: The Benefits and Fundamentals of Earning the Easy ‘A.’” At $6 a pop, Cheating 101 sold 1,000 copies in five days and subsequent printings sold equally as fast. Moore’s guide can still be purchased via the Internet.

In a 2002 report, the Josephson Institute of Ethics found that during the previous year 74 percent of high school students indicated they had cheated, 81 percent said they lied to their parents and 83 percent had lied to a teacher.

Other studies exist, but I think you get the picture. America, it appears, has become the land of the liar and the home of the deceiver. We are proving Susannah Centlivre’s cynical assessment to be correct: “’Tis my opinion every man cheats in his way,” the English actress and dramatist said. “And he is only [considered] honest who is not discovered.”

In the Bible, Jesus teaches what is regarded by many to be the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Some students of behavior maintain that Christ’s teaching is as much reality as it is maxim. In other words, how you “do unto others” is exactly how you can expect to be “done unto.”

If the behaviorists are correct, and how we treat others is an anticipation of how we can expect to be treated, then it seems many Americans are not bothered by the prospect of being lied to.

If a majority of our fellow citizens are being deceptive two to three times a week, just how many times is any one of us on the receiving end of a lie? With all this deception taking place, it would be naive to think everyone is shooting straight at all times.

While pondering a culture that has embraced lying, a story I once heard came to mind:

Coming home from work, a woman stopped at the corner deli to buy a chicken for supper. The butcher grabbed the last bird he had and tossed it onto a scale. Peering at the numbers he announced the weight.

The woman calculated the fowl to be too small for the meal she had planned. She asked the butcher if he had any that were larger. Without saying a word, he removed the chicken from sight and pretended to grope behind the counter.

After a moment of feigned searching, the butcher produced the same chicken and placed it on the scale. “This one,” he said, “weighs one pound more.” The woman thought for a moment and said, “Good, I’ll take both!”

While it seems we live in a culture that has become comfortable with deception, remember: The lie you tell today just might be the one you are told tomorrow.

    About the Author

  • Kelly Boggs