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more light #299

On Deciding to Lie or Not

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

by Stan Shapiro, LEO

As Masons we take pride in honesty. In our dis­cussions we have noted Masons, like all people, sometimes tell “white lies”. We concluded “white lies” are sometimes appropriate if they were told to spare another person’s feelings. I now believe another condition for a lie to be “white “if the person will gain nothing for himself by telling it.

A new study at Harvard University by Joshua Green found that honest people don’t need to worry about being led into temptation to lie. He and his colleagues investigated whether honesty is an act of will or inherent grace. They scanned the brains of 25 people who were told they would re­ceive a monetary reward if they could correctly predict the outcome of a coin toss. Sometimes the par­ticipants had to call out loud as the coin was tossed and sometimes they were asked after the toss what they had guessed. A control group of participants always said their prediction out loud and thus had no opportunity to cheat.

As you would expect, the control group accu­rately predicted heads or tails 50 percent of the time.

The group that had the opportunity to cheat was correct 66 percent of the time with some participants “predicting “heads or tails with 90 percent accu­racy: When these participants chose not to lie, the scans of their brain showed activity in the prefrontal lobe, which is the area used in making decisions. Non-cheaters, who always told the truth, lacked this activity. Post-experiment interviews confirmed that the honest people were aware of the opportunity to cheat. Thus the research team concluded, “When it comes to honesty, it seems more grace than will.”

Does this mean that as Mason’s we are honest more by grace than having to think about whether we will be honest first?

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Last modified: March 22, 2014