Read LETTING THE CROWDS BE GOOD - CHAPTER IV of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


My theory about the Liar is that it is of no use to scold him or blame him.  It merely makes him feel superior.  He should be looked upon quietly and without saying anything as a case of arrested development.  What has happened to him is that he merely is not quite bright about himself, and has failed to see how bright (in the long run) other people are.

When a man lies or does any other wrong thing, his real failure consists not in the wrongdoing itself, but in his failure to take pains to focus his mind on the facts in himself, and in the people about him, and see what it really is that he would wish he had done, say in twenty years.  It seems to be possible, after a clumsy fashion, to find out by a study of ourselves, and of our own lives and of other men’s lives, what we would wish we had done afterward.  Everything we have learned so far we have learned by guessing wrong on what we have thought we would want afterward.  We have gradually guessed what we wanted better.  We began our lives as children with all sorts of interesting sins or moral guesses and experiments.  We find there are certain sins or moral experiments we almost never use any more because we found that they never worked.  We had been deceived about them.  Most of us have tried lying.  Since we were very small we have tried in every possible fashion-now in one way, now in another-to see if lying could not be made to work.  By far the majority of us, and all of us who are the most intelligent, are not deceived now by our desire to tell lies.  Perhaps we have not learned that all lies do not pay.  A child tells a lie at first as if a lie had never been thought of before.  It is as if lying had just been invented, and he had just thought what a great convenience it was, and how many things there were that he could do in that way.  He discovers that the particular thing he wants at the moment, he gets very often by lying.  But the next time he lies, he cannot get anything.  If he keeps on lying for a long time, he learns that while, after a fashion, he is getting things, he is losing people.  Finally, he finds he cannot even get things.  Nobody believes in him or trusts him.  He cannot be efficient.  He then decides that being trusted, and having people who feel safe to associate with him and to do business with him, is the thing he really wants most; and that he must have first, even if it is only a way to get the other things he wants.  It need not be wondered that the Trusts, those huge raw youngsters of the modern spirit, have had to go through with most of the things other boys have.  The Trusts have had to go through, one after the other, all their children’s diseases, and try their funny little moral experiments on the world.  They thought they could lie at first.  They thought it would be cunning, and that it would work.  They did not realize at once that the bigger a boy you were, even if you were anonymous, the more your lie showed and the more people there were who suffered from it who would be bound sooner or later to call you to account for it.

The Trusts have been guessing wrong on what they would wish they had done in twenty years, and the best of them now are trying to guess better.  They are trying to acquire prestige by being far-sighted for themselves and far-sighted for the people who deal with them, and are resting their policy on winning confidence and on keeping faith with the people.

They not only tried lying, like all young children, but they tried stealing.  For years the big corporations could be seen going around from one big innocent city in this country to another, and standing by quietly and without saying a word, putting the streets in their pockets.

But no big corporation of the first class to-day would begin its connection with a city in this fashion.  Beginning a permanent business relation with a customer by making him sorry afterward he has had any dealings with you, has gone by as a method of getting business in England and America.

One of our big American magazines not long ago, which had gained especially high rates from its advertisers because they believed in it, lied about its circulation.  The man who was responsible was not precisely sure, gave nominal figures in round numbers, and did what magazines very commonly did under the circumstances; but when the magazine owner looked up details afterward and learned precisely what the circulation was for the particular issue concerned, he sent out announcements to every firm in the country that had anything in the columns of that issue, saying that the firm had lied, and enclosing a check for the difference in value represented.  Of course it was a good stroke of business, eating national humble pie so, and it was a cheap stroke of business too, doing some one, sudden, striking thing that no one would forget.  Not an advertisement could be inserted and paid for in the magazine for years without having that action, and the prestige of that action, back of it.  Every shred of virtue there was in the action could have been set one side, and was set one side by many people, because it paid so well.  Every one saw suddenly, and with a faint breath of astonishment, how honesty worked.  But the main point about the magazine in distinction from its competitors seems to have been that it not merely saw how honesty worked, but it saw it first and it had the originality, the moral shrewdness and courage, to put up money on it.  It believed in honesty so hard that suddenly one morning, before all the world, it risked its entire fortune on it.  Now that it has been done once, the new level or standard of candour may be said to have been established which others will have to follow.  But it does not seem to me that the kind of man who has the moral originality to dare do a thing like this first need ever have any serious trouble with competitors.  In the last analysis, in the competition of modern business to get the crowd, the big success is bound to come to men in the one region of competition where competition still has some give in it-the region of moral originality.  Other things in competition nowadays have all been thought of except being good.  Any man who can and will to-day think out new and unlooked-for ways of being good can get ahead, in the United States of practically everybody.