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Rewarding Honesty

by Eli H. Newberger, M.D. (6 December 2003)

(This lesson is based on an excerpt of the book "The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of the Male Character" by Dr. Newberger.)

Chapter 11 in my book "The Men They Will Become" addresses the subject of honesty in boys. This section discusses the effects of rewarding honesty. It follows the section on Honesty and Lessons from the Law.

Safeguard of honesty

The final safeguard of honesty in the law is the most profound. It is that honesty is in some way rewarded. I wish I could help every parent and teacher grasp and accept this rule, which is so often neglected. Honesty isn't its own reward. The reward has to be added. In the main, all that is needed is that honesty be praised. Toddlers should always be thanked for telling the truth, as should schoolboys and adolescents.

Reward is reduction

When honesty involves the acknowledgment of a regrettable act, the reward may be mainly in the form of a reduction of punishment for having owned up to the act. Every act of truth-telling, even if what is confessed reflects badly on the speaker, should be acknowledged as an instance of moral courage. In other words, we should distinguish between the careful establishment by others' testimony of a truth that the doer denies to the bitter end, and the honest admission of a truth that the speaker rues.


I'm not, of course, advocating that every home and school be turned into a part-time courthouse. What courts do with great formality—and great expense—can be done informally but carefully in any other venue. If the safeguards of honesty common to the courts could be more deeply incorporated into domestic or school situations, everyone would be better off. A sense of orderliness would replace what is now often impulsive and hot-tempered accusation and judgment. Relatively minor incidents would not be blown out of proportion. What I'm advocating, as I shall discuss in more detail later, is a higher level of parental consciousness about honesty in situations where honesty is undeniably an issue.

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Honesty should be worthwhile

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