Lying

 

 

Effects

Honesty with oneself and others by accepting and telling the truth is the foundation of lasting relationships, a must for security, and a catalyst speeding up one's life and all human civilization. Yet, lying is inevitable sometimes, however short-lived all lies are.

To some, lying is diplomacy, cleverness, and consideration for others, among other euphemisms; while honesty is mere bluntness and lack of wit and imagination.

When lying is frequent, that it becomes the norm, it illegitimately transforms from a vice to a virtue. It becomes a basic ingredient of many everyday interactions, without which many jobs cannot be done, e.g. those largely depending on lying: law, politics, entertainment, trade, advertising, PR, tourism, etc. Any job, relationship, emotion, tradition, or belief founded on a lie is naturally unstable and doomed to end.

Causes

1. Society: Laws and traditions are man-made; they are subject to mistakes. An unjust law is missing, ignoring or distorting the truth. When laws are unjust, people have no choice but to live with the injustice or to break the law. They are forced to lie then, because their smaller lies are only a reaction to the bigger ones governing a society, a country or the entire world.

2. Mother Nature is unjust too, that we can't just follow her laws. We either work individually, or collectively design laws to counteract nature's injustice. We should understand why some people lie to hide their lack of resources, intelligence, physical skills, etc., in a society that glorifies and cooperates only with those who have such qualities, and marginalizes those who have not.

3. Imagination is better than reality sometimes, that we all use it for diversion, inspiration, and better understanding. However, we must distinguish between facts and fantasies, in our thoughts, plans, actions and interaction with other people. If we don't, we may unintentionally lie. If we know such distinction, too late, we may still lie, intentionally.

A child's real world is very limited, lacking many of the freedoms and physical and mental skills of adults, while full of prohibitions instead. If you are a child, and you know, like any human, adult or child, that you may die at any time by any cause of death (especially at such fragile age of childhood), and this is your only chance of seeing life before you leave it will you still stick to reality and follow the rules of adults?

4. We merely lie by force of habit. The more we lie to others, the more difficult it gets to free ourselves from the web of lies we get ourselves into, that we prefer to keep lying instead. The more we lie to ourselves, the further we get from reality, almost living a parallel reality. Being honest then becomes extremely difficult and painful. We cannot face the truth suddenly whenever we are psychologically "unprepared" for it. Honesty is best likened to "light," that one cannot face unless one is prepared for; otherwise their eyes get hurt and fail to see correctly. What matters is to always remember that sooner or later the truth must be faced, however long it takes to prepare ourselves for it, when we can finally be relieved of lying, of running away and hiding from the truth.

Some will delay that moment of truth till the last breath, as in deathbed confessions. Death, aging and many hardships make people desperate to try new things, emboldening them to break rules, as by disclosing secrets and lifelong lies.

However, secrets should be distinguished from lies, as the former can effortlessly be kept to oneself forever, as long as they are neither a burden to oneself nor affecting someone else's life. But if too many "light secrets" (just as too many white lies) eventually become a heavy burden, we'd better share it with someone we fully trust, if there is any, when such burden really hurts and needs to be shared.

5. We usually lie involuntarily when we follow instinct instead of reason, as our primitive brain is not qualified to distinguish facts from lies. Involuntary lying is not lying, it's ignorance; yet we are responsible for the lies we tell when we choose to be ignorant, as when we follow instinct:

  • Physical Instinct: We have illusions caused by sex, food, seeing, hearing  ... and other sensations, enjoyable or painful, making us tell lies while under their influence.
  • Social Instinct: We lie to please other people and conform to the company we are with. We become biased toward those we are with and against those we are not, and against any group we don't belong to: family, town, country, company, club .... We even become biased against ourselves, when with others, sacrificing our interest, privacy, dignity, safety, time, energy ... alongside honesty.
  • Survival Instinct: We lie when we are nervous about protecting our self-interests. Lying for survival is the most common cause of lying, and the most justified (to avoid death, want, danger, etc.). Yet, because survival is an instinct, when people follow it blindly they confuse their basic necessities with gluttony, that keeps them wanting more, and lying more.
  • Pride Instinct:
    • We need enough self-confidence for survival, just like other animals, for fighting, mating, perseverance, leadership, etc. Yet, because pride is so addictive, like a natural sedative, we may end up too confident about ourselves: conceited. Although the highest level of honesty is that achieved with oneself, as honesty thrives faster in self-sufficient solitude, away from any survival, sensual or social disturbance, yet we lie to ourselves sometimes, if we don't watch our pride. Vanity is so intoxicating and easier than having worthy achievements, that it makes us prefer lying to working.
    • Thus, we excessively use this handy pill to please our egos and others':
      • We lie, and enjoy being lied to, about our characters, achievements, looks, etc. We do so when we are uncertain about the above qualities in ourselves, hoping that other people will provide us with the certainty we miss; or when we are certain we have no such qualities, hoping that other people will prove us wrong.
      • Conversely, we are not allowed to praise ourselves in front of other people, when it's their "turn" for receiving their ego-massage session. Even if we were honest and praiseworthy then, we should wait or even lie about our worth, to please their egos at the expense of ours.

Types

Just as seeking the truth takes many forms (arguing, observing, analyzing, etc.), so does distorting, hiding, or escaping it.

Powerful & Weak: A powerful lie can be more appealing or convincing than a reality. It can be sophisticated, truth-like and mind-boggling, or just so pleasing and deeply solacing. Thus it lives long and gains popularity too. It can last for a lifetime, whole generations, or millennia (e.g. superstitions); but eventually it dies.

A professional/pathological liar lies using the same techniques used for telling the truth. It goes without being noticed by the unsuspecting eye; but for the skeptic vigilant mind, that takes nothing for granted and never tires of doubting, it is easily spotted.

Direct & Indirect: There are outright lies, where the truth is just altered; and there is lying "in disguise," where it's covered. Avoiding, misrepresenting, silence about, or telling parts of truth is indirect lying. Indirect lies can be partly verbal or non-verbal, where senses, emotions and behavior hide the truth even more. Acting, flattering, vanity, modesty, pessimism, optimism, exaggeration, denial, blind faith, and many arts, trades and social conventions are indirect lying.

It's impossible to distinguish a lie from a truth at a "certain" instant, because we can't ignore the "dimension of time" and the accumulative nature of learning, that we should rather wait till an argument is finished/point made/case rested ... before we make our judgment. It's also impossible to label a piece of information as a lie when taken out of context, because of the relative nature of truth; rather, we should get the whole picture first.

However, when a culprit is caught red-handed, he doesn't have much to lie about. The time allowed to defend himself is not indefinite: it's limited by the undeniable evidence found and its natural consequence, i.e. the cause and effect of the argument, neither of which can be lied about.

Useful & Harmful: We may lie when the purpose of lying is superior to the damaging effect of telling the truth. Future effect should be considered too: if discovering a lie later is more damaging than telling it now, then it's more harmful than useful, and not telling it is better. Truth should always be favored.

  • A doctor may temporarily lie to save a patient's life until he/she is psychologically & physically ready for the truth.
  • A CEO may temporarily lie to discourage his rivals, to keep the morale and unity of his subordinates, and to not lose his customers.
  • A parent may temporarily lie to a child during a hard time to avoid developing an indelible bad impression of life. Once the hardship is over, or even before that, it's advisable that the child know the truth, the earlier the better. Children can gradually, easily accept facts we consider hard to them, as we usually, wrongly treat them like adults (just as we "anthropomorphize" animals). A child's brain is naturally flexible: children are more broad-minded than us.

On the other hand, harmful lies happen when the effect of lies is more damaging than telling the truth.

  • A husband who lives a constantly double life and doesn't tell the truth to his wife, is ruining his marriage, not protecting it as many cheaters believe. He lies about a partnership (company) he doesn't own alone, and an instinct (sex drive) driving the marriage out of control. Marital lies happen because marriage is founded partly on a powerful animal instinct. It's safer to give free reign to such instinct only with one partner we fully trust.
  • A lie can be dangerous or trivial according to its subject, time, place, and number of recipients, tellers and times (lying frequency). The most dangerous lies are those told in court, parliament, hospital, bank, school, media, etc. (during a testimony, investigation, surgery, contract, transaction, public speech, class, etc.), as they concern vital issues and affect the largest audience.
  • If a lie is told at the beginning of life or life's "intersections," a person can be misled for years, driving in the wrong direction. It sets a weak "foundation" for whatever is built during these stages: childhood, adolescence; a new relationship, career, environment, etc.

When a dangerous lie is discovered, it has a domino effect similar to that of discovering a new scientific fact. Either ends or starts a whole different era to a person or a society: different knowledge, beliefs, relationships, principles, future plans, etc.

Personal & Social: Lying to oneself is more harmful and automatically leads to lying to others. Honesty begins at home: there isn't a man who can be true to other people as he can to himself, simply because no man can love or understand anyone more than himself.

Self-interest is the norm. Although we care about others' interest sometimes (by choosing to be a parent, philanthropist, activist, etc.), and even hate ourselves sometimes (suffering guilt, self-loathing, self-abuse); still, in such cases we temporarily go against the norm of ourselves and society. The potential or motivation for self-loathing or altruism is less than self-love, the latter being the driving instinct that keeps every living organism alive.

It's ironic that the one fact most humans agree on is the one they most lie about, that is, "self-interest"; and the one virtue all humans (and animals) can't live without, commonly mentioned as a vice instead of a virtue, is the unjustly notorious "self-love."


 

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