In his new book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Duke University Professor Dan Ariely explains how his experiments with 30,000 show that “only a few people cheat a lot, but a lot of people cheat a little.”
In a June 4 interview on NPR, Dr. Ariely describes an experiment he conducted where people were asked to self-report the number of math problems they answered correctly. They received $1.00 for every correct answer. People generally responded that they got six questions correct, when, on average, they only got four problems correct in the time allotted.
“Across all of our experiments, we've tested maybe 30,000 people, and we had a dozen or so bad apples and they stole about $150 from us. And we had about 18,000 little rotten apples, each of them just stole a couple of dollars, but together it was $36,000.”
Do you cheat … “just a little”?
I was amused by the radio segment on the drive home - the stories were funny and Dr. Ariely seemed to have a good pulse on human nature.
But when I thought about it more critically, I knew he had a good pulse on my own human nature. I think we all let ourselves get away with “minor infractions” – stretching the truth on our time sheets at work, lying about why we’re late getting to a meeting, using the printer for personal purposes and justifying it with “everybody does it” and “it’s not like I’m really stealing - it’s just some paper.” Interestingly, Dr. Ariely also talked about how not seeing a real monetary value assigned to something made us more prone to steal.
But the Bible doesn’t say, “it’s okay to do this little stuff as long as you can be trusted with the big things.” It says the exact opposite. In Luke 16: 10-12 (NIV), Jesus is speaking to his disciples about stewardship. He tells the story of a debt collector who worked for a rich man. The debt collector gets “creative” in collecting his master’s debts, and Jesus says:
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?"
So when I demonstrate that I can’t be trusted with the “little” things, like lying to coworkers about why I’m late, can I expect God to entrust me with all the “big” things He wants to call me to do?
I believe it’s a lifelong battle, but I know I want to stop cheating “even just a little.”