Know Thyself — Truthfulness, Honesty, and Self Reliance

Learning, or habit adjustment takes place when we confront disturbing situations. The readjustment of habits continues until a solution is reached, which means only that the disturbance is removed. The habit solution is now a component of the personality. But it must be noticed that such habit solutions are specific to the situation. One such experience will not establish a personality trait like honesty. Children learn to be generally truthful only when they have had thousands of experiences in which a false report has gotten them into trouble and a truthful amendment of the report has gotten them out. One unfortunate experience with lying does not establish a habit of telling the truth in all situations, but only in situations which closely resemble the one experienced. Truthful descriptions of events in speech are no more natural and can no more be taught by one experience than can accurate drawings of a landscape. Truthfulness and honesty are skills which require long training.

These virtues and other virtues appear as traits of character or personality when a child is brought up in a family with traditions and attitudes which act as continual correctives in the child’s behavior. Such general traits involve thousands of different associative habits…. A consistent tendency to tell the truth includes thousands of habits. We speak of a habit of self-reliance; but self-reliance depends also on the situation, and when we find a child who proves self-reliant in a large number of situations we may be assured that he has learned this attitude in a large number of experiences. But since the membership of the family includes the same persons over long periods and these persons are subject to habit, each child has opportunity to be exposed to an indefinite number of situations in which he may have been left to his own devices, or to an indefinite number of situations in which an overzealous mother regularly interfered and took charge.

Edwin R. Guthrie (1938)


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