Monday, December 16, 2013

The (Honest) Trush About Dishonesty

This review was originally written for Fully Booked's Zine. I have since edited it from the original, but the contents remain mostly the same. If for any reason I convince you to purchase this book, please consider buying from my Amazon Associates link above, I'd surely appreciate it. It's on sale for the rest of this month, so buy now!

We are are far more dishonest than we will ever admit to ourselves, says Dan Ariely, and it’s these small acts of dishonesty that lead to some terrible mistakes. His own interest in dishonesty stems from the story of a man he genuinely admired. John Perry Barlow had been a consultant with the energy company Enron until its accounting scandal in 2002, and had truly believed in the company until the end. This shook Ariely’s view that the scandal was orchestrated by individual masterminds, and led him to theorize that perhaps a long chain of dishonesty had permeated the organization and led to its undoing. He takes the next decade to test out that theory, and his results are presented in this eye-opening book that will forever cause you to question your own integrity. Each chapter reveals a particular piece of data that Ariely finds interesting. For example in one scenario he finds that people who sign a document before they fill up a form tend to lie much less than people who sign at the end. The reason? Having the person sign before creates a mental reminder that one should be telling the truth, whereas when you've already filled out the form and sign at the end, the impulse is to just sign and get things over with. Another scenario pitted different countries against each other to see who would be the most dishonest (everyone believed their own country would be the worst). The surprising result? Given a standardized setting people from different nationalities cheated about the same amount. I particularly liked that experiment, since it gives the lie to Filipinos' assumptions that we are naturally more dishonest than others. Ariely's research should be taken with a grain of salt, but he presents a very strong case for a worldview that doesn’t ascribe evil intentions to politicians, corporations, and other convenient scapegoats. Instead he asks that we recognize that we are no different from these people in the way we lie to ourselves. Once we do that, we are free from merely castigating these people as lesser or weaker-willed than we are and we can start to think about how to better incentivize the good behaviour that we all want from each other.

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