3. She must not be too stern or severe in punishing the deviations from truth in very young children, or in expressing the displeasure which they awaken in her mind. It is instruction, not expressions of anger or vindictive punishment, that is required in most cases. Explain to them the evils that would result if we could not believe what people say, and tell them stories of truth-loving children on the one hand, and of false and deceitful children on the other. And, above all, notice, with indications of approval and pleasure, when the child speaks the truth under circumstances which might have tempted him to deviate from it. One instance of this kind, in which you show that you observe and are pleased by his truthfulness, will do more to awaken in his heart a genuine love for the truth than ten reprovals, or even punishments, incurred by the violation of it. And in the same spirit we must make use of the religious considerations which are appropriate to this subject—that is, we must encourage the child with the approval of his heavenly Father, when he resists the temptation to deviate from the truth, instead of frightening him, when he falls, by terrible denunciations of the anger of God against liars; denunciations which, however well-deserved in the cases to which they are intended to apply, are not designed for children in whose minds the necessary discriminations, as pointed out in this chapter, are yet scarcely formed.
Danger of confounding Deceitfulness and Falsehood.
4. Do not confound the criminality of deceitfulness by acts with falsehood by words, by telling the child, when he resorts to any artifice or deception in order to gain his ends, that it is as bad to deceive as to lie. It is not as bad, by any means. There is a marked line of distinction to be drawn between falsifying one’s word and all other forms of deception, for there is such a sacredness in the spoken word, that the violation of it is in general far more reprehensible than the attempt to accomplish the same end by mere action. If a man has lost a leg, it may be perfectly right for him to wear a wooden one which is so perfectly made as to deceive people—and even to wear it, too, with the intent to deceive people by leading them to suppose that both his legs are genuine—while it would be wrong; for him to assert in words that this limb was not an artificial one. It is right to put a chalk egg in a hen’s nest to deceive the hen, when, if the hen could understand language, and if we were to suppose hens “to have any rights that we are bound to respect,” it would be wrong to tell her that it was a real egg. It would be right for a person, when his house was entered by a robber at night, to point an empty gun at the robber to frighten him away by leading him to think that the gun was loaded; but it would be wrong, as I think—though I am aware that many persons would think differently—for him to say in words that the gun was loaded, and that he would fire unless the robber went away. These cases show that there is a great difference between deceiving by false appearances, which is sometimes right, and doing it by false statements, which, as I think, is always wrong. There is a special and inviolable sacredness, which every lover of the truth should attach to his spoken word.