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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Forget the decade of deceit – we are heading for a millennium of mistrust

Lying on your CV is just the tip of the iceberg. We are living in the midst of a global integrity crisis, says Justin Thomas

Private investigators in Dubai are weeding out jobseekers who lie on their CV / Getty
Private investigators in Dubai are weeding out jobseekers who lie on their CV / Getty

The idea of faking it till you make it has gone too far. Some UAE firms are now so swamped by exaggerated CVs that they have turned to private investigators to help verify jobseeker credentials. As reported in The National last week, this deceptive self-aggrandisement often crosses the border into blatant fraud and jobseekers are being warned that such dishonesty could fall foul of article 399 of UAE law, resulting in fines, deportation and possible jail time of up to three years.

This deceitful behaviour is not just an issue for the UAE and it goes way beyond CVs. The first 10 years of the new millennium have been referred to as the decade of deceit; remember the weapons of mass destruction? The second decade seems no less dishonest. American historian Daniel Boorstin argued that we have entered the post-truth era, an age where being believable has become an acceptable substitute for truth. In short, we are living through a global integrity crisis.

The levels of deception are varied, from pseudologia fantastica (pathological lying), to politely wriggling out of an unwanted appointment (white lies).

A common theme, however, is the motivation to get something we want, whether that is praise, attention or a job, or to avoid something we don’t want, such as blame, punishment or negative appraisals. Perhaps our societies have become more competitive, perhaps we want what we want, more than ever before. Greed and deceit are, after all, close cousins and related vices.

Lying, however, is as old as language and misrepresenting our credentials is nothing new either. In the 15th century, Lambert Simnel, the great pretender, falsely claimed to be Edward Plantagenet, the 17th Earl of Warwick and true heir to the English throne. This particular fraudster was found out but some fakers do make it and so persist.

Not only do we refuse to desist, it seems that the frequency with which we engage in this kind of behaviour is rapidly increasing. Furthermore, our attitude towards this type of dishonesty also appears to be more accepting than it once was.

Research published by Exeter University’s Centre for the Study of Integrity in 2012 documented a clear increase in so-called “low level dishonesty” across the UK. The survey, called the integrity test, included questions about lying on job applications, finding money in the street and not reporting accidental damage done to a parked car.

Between 2000 and 2011, the two times the survey was carried out, levels of dishonesty rose significantly, irrespective of social class, education or income. Women were, on average, more honest than men and the older age groups were more honest than the under-25s.

Only 33 per cent of the under-25s thought lying on a job application was unjustifiable while 55 per cent of those over 65 years of age categorically condemned the practice. This age-related effect suggests that the situation might have to get worse before it can get better.

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Read more from Justin Thomas:

Separating children from parents can do lifelong damage so why is Trump tearing families apart?

Third culture kids are a by-product of globalisation – and that's no bad thing

Anthony Bourdain's tragic death shows depression has many faces

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Taking a tough stance on CV fraudsters is a good first step. But what about the people with CVs listing legitimate qualifications that were obtained by cheating on exams, buying essays and engaging in other more innovative forms of academic dishonesty? The integrity crisis starts well before we craft our first CVs and a long time before we enter the workforce.

A biannual comprehensive survey of US high school students known as the Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth routinely reports increasing levels of dishonesty, specifically cheating, stealing and lying.

Surprisingly, despite the high levels of dishonesty reported, the vast majority of students (93 per cent) say that they are satisfied with their ethics while 77 per cent said: “When it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

If our young people increasingly feel that lying and cheating for personal gain are acceptable, then forget the decade of deceit – perhaps we are heading for a millennium of mistrust.

Prevention is better than cure; it is also better than punishment. By the time we become the type of adult who thinks lying on a resume is harmless, matters might already have advanced too far to change this outlook, although not impossibly so.

Fake CVs are a symptom of a deeper problem though, one that is best addressed in childhood and adolescence. We need to do more at home, in our schools and in society in general to promote integrity, authenticity and humility.

The UAE’s recently launched moral education initiative is a good example of an activity that might have a positive impact on this rising tide of societal dishonesty. Perhaps one day “fake it till you make it”, that misguided mantra for our modern age, will completely fade from collective memory.

Dr Justin Thomas is professor of psychology at Zayed University and author of Psychological Well-Being in the Gulf States

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