Why are people dishonest? - Preparing you for the future of work.

Why are people dishonest?

As more people are being exposed for lying, cheating, stealing and being generally dishonest at all levels of society, it is worth our while to explore the reasons for dishonesty.



There was a time when lies were told simply to avoid the consequences of one’s actions. The logic is simple. When a kid gets caught out by their parents for having done something they were not supposed to do, they tell a lie in the hope that they will avoid being punished.

Denial, as in, “I didn’t do it,” is the first lie that springs to the lips of such a child. And, if they are believed, they come to realise that denial is a powerful defence.

So, when those same children grow to adulthood having escaped the consequences of their deceitful actions over the years by lying as they were growing up, denial then becomes a habit.

If we’re looking for reasons as to why people lie, we need look no further than the way parents bring up their children. We don’t learn ethics at Business School. We learn ethics in the first 10 years of our life.

There are however two sides to the “upbringing” coin. On the one side, parents fail to hold their children accountable for their actions because they are blinded by their love for them and can’t believe that their child can or will do anything wrong. In fact, those parents are already believing a lie before their children have had a chance to lie to them.

Then again, other parents might let their children escape the consequences of their actions because they feel sorry for them for some or other reason. This is particularly true in the case of parents who feel they aren’t able to give their children what they would like to give them. This may be because of their financial circumstances where the parent feels guilty for not earning enough to give their child what they want. It could also be because of a divorce where the child is deprived of one parent’s presence. Again, guilt plays a role, leading to overcompensation where the parent overlooks transgressions and the child soon learns that they can escape the consequences of their actions. They then grow up thinking that society will treat them in the same way.

The flip side of the coin is that children actually learn to lie from having parents who shamelessly and blatantly lie for various reasons. Example is a very powerful influence in a growing child’s life so, when children witness their parents lying to authorities to avoid certain consequences, they assume that this is the best way to handle such situations and become accomplished liars themselves.

Whichever way you look at it, then, parents play a key role in determining the honesty or deceitfulness of their children. Of course, that doesn’t let those children off the hook. Everybody has to take responsibility for their own actions.

The denials coming from politicians, public sector workers, business consultants and others whose actions have been exposed as illegal or unethical is now becoming predictable to the point of being funny, if it weren’t so tragic.

If we allow dishonesty to go unchecked, dishonest people are going to rob our country of a better future. I urge you to take a stand against dishonesty by conducting yourself in terms of word and deed in an honest way. Take responsibility for your actions and hold others accountable for their actions.

After you have set an example of honesty, reward and endorse honesty whenever you come across it. Adopt the mindset that honesty is not the best policy – it’s the only policy!

Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and teaches business leaders and managers of all generations how to lead with integrity, purpose and agility. In 2018, he was named by US-based web site Disruptordaily.com as one of the "Top 25 Future of Work Influencers to Follow on Twitter".

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