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When the Truth Hurts Is it ever O.K. to tell a little white lie?

His new senior patrol leader, Bret,

is really friendly. While several other Scouts look on, Bret asks Raymar about life in northern Minnesota. “I’ll bet you spent a lot of time at Northern Tier,” he says. “Sure,” Raymar says. “Minnesota

is lake country. We went canoeing all the time.”

But that’s not exactly true. His

troop went canoeing a lot, but Raymar never went along on those trips with the rest of the guys. In fact, he’s never been canoeing in his life and just barely passed his swim check at summer camp. It seems like a harmless white lie,

though. After all, what are the chances that his new troop will ever do any serious canoeing? Tampa is sailing and powerboat country. Then Bret drops the hammer.

OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES observed, “Pretty much all the honest truth- telling there is in the world is done by children.” He might have been right, but that doesn’t mean kids always tell the truth. Just like adults, many kids are

prone to stretch the truth, sometimes to the breaking point. And just like adults, their lies sometimes get them into more trouble than telling the truth would have. In fact, most people—kids and adults—would benefit from the wisdom of Mark Twain. “If you tell the truth,” Twain wrote, “you don’t have to remember anything.”


The bad news is that kids typically learn the danger of lying only through painful experience. The good news is that Scout leaders can help them minimize the pain by exploring the issue through ethical dilemmas like the one below.

The Dilemma When 13-year-old Raymar moves with his family from Duluth, Minn., to Tampa, Fla., he sees a chance to reinvent himself. Shy and small in stature, he never quite fit in back in his Minnesota Scout troop. He hopes things will be different with his troop in Florida.

“That’s great! We’re planning a canoe trip on the New River up in West Virginia this summer,” he says. “Mr. Swenson says it’s a pretty wicked river, so we could use a good instruc- tor. How about you teach us some paddling techniques at next week’s meeting?” Before Raymar can figure out what

to say, Bret waves the Scoutmaster over. “We’re all set for next week, Mr. Swenson,” he says. “A real Northern Tier paddler is going to teach us all about canoe strokes.”

Discussion Topics As so often happens, Raymar’s white lie takes on a life of its own. He now faces some unpleasant options. He could tell the truth, which

would cost him his credibility with the senior patrol leader and Scoutmaster. He could accuse the


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