Does Higher Education Make you Lie??!!!

I was shocked when I read the statistics. In the March issue of Vanity Fair magazine,  the 60 minutes/Vanity Fair Poll revealed that the more highly educated you are the more justified you feel in lying!!!

The question was, “Should you always tell the truth?” The answers were:

Without college degree 62% said you should always tell the truth
Only 45% of the undergraduates said always tell the truth
Post graduates only 35% said always tell the truth.

This got me to thinking what is it that drives this ethic (or lack thereof)? Is it higher education? Does the higher educational system teach that lying is justified? Is the pursuit of a grade a precursor to bending the truth to reach any goals? Is it that higher education has stripped the study of ethics from the curriculum? 

I count myself fortunate. I went to the college of St. Thomas (now a University) in St. Paul, MN. As a part of my studies, in order to graduate, everyone had to take a set of courses from the fields of Theology and Philosophy, including Ethics. We were taught that there is a right and a wrong. We were also taught that sometimes you could “win” at the price of your soul.  And we were encouraged to reflect on that price and the value of the said “win”.

I don’t know what other institutions are teaching but something is wrong when only 35% of our most highly educated people; many of whom are driving our government policies and corporate decisions, say that you should always tell the truth.  This means 65% of them think they should lie.

We are at a place in America where citizens are losing trust and faith in the institutions that have been the shapers of our country. I’m talking about our government; I’m talking about our corporations and our institutions of learning. These forces shaped our country; they have made us a place where many people have wanted to come, for a chance at a better life. BUT and it is a big but, if we continue to become a nation where telling the truth loses its value based on your education…

What are you doing overtly and in an obvious way to reinforce the ethics you claim to hold? Look at the mighty that have fallen. ENRON had integrity in their stated values. But did they consider that value or any of the others they held when they were making decisions that were difficult?

It comes down to having a conversation about how we live and work together.  Not how we are going to work against each other. We are all on this planet, (in this country) together. And we will either thrive together or strive apart.

What’s it to be?


  1. Welyne Morton Thomas

    I think that is misreading the data. Perhaps it is more nuanced than that as saying that the dress you have on makes you fat is just not kind. There are consequences for lying when it counts and there are consequences for being a slave to the truth when a softer answer is called for. Let’s not hyperventilate on this particular data point when we don’t know what the context was or how the question was asked. Before leaping off that ledge, let’s look around first.

  2. Thanks for reading Weylene,

    I don’t think we would disagree that being mean in a context where it is uncalled for is appropriate )That dress makes you look fat).

    If we want to be precise, a lie is a lie regardless of the context. We either are telling the truth or we are not.

    That is not to say that in some cases an individual may feel it is morally appropriate to lie (Do you lie to save a life, do you lie to preserve your marriage, do you lie to let your child believe in Santa Clause for another year).

    What is bothersome to me, and I think to many others is the tendency of individuals to “bend” the truth in order to avoid embarrassment or to create an ill gotten gain. The poll in question asked “one should always tell the truth”. It seems a pretty straight forward question.

    As far as the ledge is concerned thanks for your concern no leaping for me

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