I walked into Creative Thinking and Writing “Food Porn” on my first day of classes as a freshman at Santa Clara University. I thought to myself “Great, another English class I can write mediocre papers about topics and books I don’t really care about and get out with at least a C+.” just like every other English class throughout my twelve years of Jesuit Education. Yet our professor, Nick Leither, immediately shattered my hopes of coasting through my mandatory college writing courses. I knew it was going to be hard, but I was certain my twelve years of practice, hard work, and refinement of my one skill would suffice, bullshitting. Every English course prior to this course was simple and asked very little of the students. Read
a book, tell the teacher what they wanted to hear in the paper, and make up the rest without putting intensive thought or effort into it. In fact, a majority of my research papers in high school were in other classes such as History or Science. Yet Nick expected something different from his students. He told us immediately that if we were not good at research, he was going to make us good. He was going to teach us how to conduct intensive research and how to actually care about the topics we were researching. Through his course, Nick opened up the creative aspect to his students. He allowed us to do our research on any topic we wished, leading me to be genuinely interested in my papers and attempt to write papers that were better than my typical C+ papers, although my attempts were sometimes lackluster. Through this course I learned extensive information on factory farming, the poor treatment of animals, and how factory farming has affected the world rather than just the animals that are raised in these poor conditions. Yet the most important lesson I learned throughout the course of two quarters was from Dan Ariely. As he picked away at my rather unique mindset and worldview, calling out everything that I do when I lie, he made me realize:
I’m a bad person; but so are you.
Dan Ariely is a professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University making his assumptions that we are all bad people reliable. Ariely coined a term in his book, “The (honest) Truth about Dishonesty”, called the fudge factor. The fudge factor is loosely defined as the balancing act of rationalization between human and consciousness on whether cheating, or in extreme cases committing crimes, is worth it (Ariely). He states that everyone has the fudge factor yet some people are more likely to cheat than others saying “each of us has a limit to how much we can cheat before it becomes absolutely ‘sinful’” (Ariely). This fact stands true no matter how much you try and convince yourself you’re a good person, which you undoubtedly do. It’s human nature to want to view oneself as a good person. Everyone wants to claim that they hold themselves to a moral compass and do not go back on it, yet Ariely claims that we all fail to uphold our values.
I am a Catholic, and an Eagle Scout. Through my religion, I am held to the Ten Commandments and the beatitudes, and when I became an Eagle Scout I pledged to live by the Scout Oath which is filled with statements on how to live honorably and for others. However, when I do end up going back on one of the honor codes I am signed to I utilize defense mechanisms. When I go against the Commandments and decide to steal a piece of candy from Safeway or am jealous of my friends new golf clubs I come up with reasons why I can justify these in my mind. As Ariely claims, humans are experts at making themselves feel better about cheating (Ariely). When I steal a piece of candy I say to myself “It’s just a piece of candy, it’s not that big of a deal” yet it is still stealing. When I see my friends golf clubs I claim “I’m better at golf than him I deserve those, and besides I play golf way more than him” yet I am still breaking the Commandments and wanting the clubs. All of these things are to make myself feel like I am a better person than I actually am.
It is human nature to utilize ego defenses when moral codes are broken. Ego defenses are “unconscious processes that we deploy to diffuse the fear and anxiety that arise when who we think we are or who we think we should be comes into conflict with who we really are.” and every single human does it (Burton). The most common ego defenses that humans utilize are repression and distortion of the acts. Repression is “motivated forgetting” of an act that goes against one’s moral code (Burton). This would be me stealing a piece of candy or a small keychain and telling myself “It was a dollar, who cares” and pushing it to the back of my mind whenever I feel regret for stealing. While distortion is the act of reshaping the “reality to suit one’s inner needs” (Burton). An example of this would be me stealing another keychain or something small and continuously telling myself “you forgot to pay for it” until I genuinely believed that I did not willingly take the keychain. It is common for people to condone this behavior, under most circumstances it is ethically and socially wrong. Yet in this situation, I utilize the same defense mechanisms as the common person. Everyone will perform these acts no matter what. Whether they steal or tell a white lie, humans constantly attempt to make themselves feel better and commonly attempt to avoid going against this moral.
Lying, much like stealing and other small scale “crimes,” are commonly performed and tend to be socially and ethically unacceptable. Yet humans always do it. In fact, lying is a learned skill that must be shaped and mastered throughout life (Grigoroglou). Humans start as terrible liars, with a small children being covered in paint yet claiming the dog decided to finger paint the wall. Yet over time, humans hone their skill through their continued use sometimes being able to lie their ways into
powerful positions within their jobs or lie to the entire public. Through a study done by the University College London, it was determined that when humans tell lies they are exposed to a behavioral affect known as “emotional adaptation” (Khan). Emotional adaptation is the desensitization of stimulus to a specific stimulus, specifically lying This behavior is wired into human behavior, being activated and controlled through the subconscious, causing people to become more and more accustomed to lying therefore causing them to lie more. It is in human behavior to lie, and it is wired into us to keep lying once we started the vicious cycle.
In conclusion, humans constantly attempt to cover uptheir actions and make themselves feel as if they are sticking to their moral compass however they often fall short. It is a completely normal behavior to cheat and go against one’s moral compass, yet often times people do not own up to their mistakes. It is common for people to cheat profusely and not even be aware of their actions.
- Khan, Amina, and Los Angeles Times. “If You Tell Little Lies, Your Brain May Get Used to It and Let You Easily Tell Big Ones.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 Oct. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/if-you-tell-little-lies-your-brain-may-get-used-to-it-and-let-you-easily-tell-big-ones/2016/10/28/eeedfc3a-9b9f-11e6-9980-50913d68eacb_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.097da077a1b9.
- Yang, Y., Raine, A., Lencz, T., Bihrle, S., Lacasse, L., & Colletti, P. (2005). Prefrontal white matter in pathological liars. British Journal of Psychiatry, 187(4), 320-325. doi:10.1192/bjp.187.4.320
- Burton, Neel. “The Psychology of Self-Deception.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 28 Aug. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201508/the-psychology-self-deception.
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