Sunday, November 06, 2005

On Lying and Absolutism

S2 is a bit of an absolutist. If something is wrong, then it's wrong, according to S2. He still has yet to really learn the meaning of "shades of grey" in his black-and-white world.

This was really brought to a head by a game that we played over Shabbos with some relatives of ours. During the game, each player takes on a role in the scenario. Since everyone's role in the game is hidden from the other players and a lot of the strategy revolves around secrecy and bluffing, there is a certain amount of lying and deceipt that goes on in the game.

S2 actually won the game, but he wasn't very happy about it. All the way to Mincha, he was complaining about the lying that was going on in the game. He mentioned the Torah's prohibition on lying and mentioned that he wished the game had never been made. I tried to explain to him that in a situation like this, where lying and deception are expected and acceptable parts of the game, it isn't a problem. He wasn't having any of it. He maintained his position and countered with "and if there was a game called 'Get Naked In The Street' would it be OK then too?"

Of course, he was right in that point. If there was such a game, we wouldn't permit it on the grounds that it is a "expected and acceptable" part of the game. So, why would it be permitted here? Of course, one can't reasonably compare a harmless white lie with public nudity, but the basic principle still stands. How does one play a game where it involves the prohibition of a Biblical commandment (albeit in a minor and mostly harmless fashion)?

I still haven't quite found a way to explain to him the difference. Of course, my sechel tells me that there is a vast difference between a simple card game and, say, lying about securities fraud or to a grand jury or even telling a lie to my mother. But how do I explain the intricacies of these nuances to a ten year old with an absolutist world view?

The Wolf


DarkBlueHat said...

Some of these reasons may be simple enough for a ten year old if developed properly.

1) Is the prohibition on the act of lying, or on the result of deceiving people? Since everyone knows that people lie in the game, it is not a true deception.

2) Imagine a game when people steal from each other and return everything at the end. By agreeing to play the game you agree to be mochel everyone beforehand and so therefore it isn't stealing – it is borrowing.

3) In real life people lie to each other, so this game is good practice at being able to detect lies. By lying you are allowing people to develop their skills at detecting it. The closest analogy is in karate practice, when they take turns throw punches and kicks at each other so they can learn how to block them.

Orthoprax said...

Indeed, I second DBH's number 1. True deception is the issue, not the technical act of saying an untruth. The game is just like playing hide and seek with words.

Tova said...

I agree with your son, actually. I played BS, the card game, with some friends in school and I was so upset by all the lying that I didn't play again. I know that lying is the point of the game, and it upsets me.

Zeh Sefer Toldot Adam said...

I have the same trouble with 30 year olds..

is it really the card-game that is bothering you or the black-and-white attitude taken across the board that concerns you?

I agree more with DBH's number 3. But more I feel like saying.. come on.. it's a game. Stop being so pious and have fun.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

What's S2's attitude towards fiction? Does he consider that lying as well?

BrooklynWolf said...

That's a very good question, steg! I think I'll ask him that if it comes up again!

The Wolf

Eeees said...

I think that DBH's #2 may have a greater impact on S2, provided that its framed the right way. I wouldn't necessarily call it "borrowing", as that might just set him off into another mussar speech. But mentioning that the fact that all players are agreeing to play the game, and are thereby being "mochel" one another in order to play by the rules, may appeal to him much more.
Then again, like tova, he may opt to never play this game again.

Anonymous said...

We seem to be having a 3 way machlokes on which of DBH's 3 answers would work best with Son #2. Time for an experiment. Explain all of them to Son #2 and ask him to grade them on a scale of 1 to 10.

Zeh Sefer Toldot Adam said...

Or, try giving a different answer to different children. Wait 30 years and see how they turn out!