Fandango’s Provocative Question this week is about lying:
How many times have you heard the expression “honesty is the best policy”? We are taught from a very young age to not lie. We are reminded that the key to trust is honesty. And yet, most people lie, whether it’s a “little white lie,” a lie to avoid hurting another person’s feelings, or a lie to avoid getting into trouble.
But if honesty is, indeed, the best policy and is critical to trust, why is it, then, that people lie? Is lying a “normal” part of the human condition?
To that end, this week’s provocative question is this:
Is it even possible to live a normal life and to not ever tell a lie?
I think it is nearly impossible to get through life without ever telling a lie. I consider myself to be an honest person and yet I have lied plenty of times. I have lied in order not to offend. I lied to my parents so I wouldn’t get in trouble (doesn’t everyone?). But I didn’t lie about things that were important. If my mother asked me a serious question about my behavior that she really needed the answer to, I would tell her the truth even if it would lead to negative consequences. Besides, I’ve always been a terrible liar. I guess I didn’t lie enough to get good at it!
I think these sorts of lies are common and normal. It’s not the same as being an inveterate liar (like Trump – his default setting when he opens his mouth is lying) or even a deceitful liar (like kids who lie to their parents about smoking, drinking or taking drugs). Deliberate deceitfulness is harmful both to the deceiver and the person they lie to. Let’s take that kid who is using drugs, for example. If he lies about it, he knows, first of all, that is something bad that will make you angry, and also, it is harmful because a parent can support him to get off drugs or seek help. It’s harmful to the kid because she is deceiving herself as well as her parents, not to mention ruining her health. Also, some parents are in denial and so not having to confront the truth about their child’s drug use, they can tell themselves their child isn’t lying. Living a lie causes tremendous stress to everyone involved.
Some drug and/or alcohol users get really good at lying to others. Having had personal experience with this, I can only blame myself for believing the lies and not pressing harder to learn the truth. People can go on lying about this for years. I’ve heard of families who are shocked to find out that a close relative concealed an addiction for years. More often than not, however, the truth gets out sooner or later because addiction tends to spill over onto loved ones through, for example, erratic behavior or unexplained loss of income. Allowing a lie to exist and fester about a family member’s harmful habit can lead to even more serious consequences for everyone in the family in the end. In psychology jargon, it’s called co-dependency or enabling.
When our leaders lie to us, they are usually corrupt or their lying leads to corruption. Lying can become a habit (as it did for the abovementioned occupant of the White House). They may do it to deliberately cause confusion or distrust. This encourages others in the government or regular citizens to lie. In authoritarian regimes, not only leaders lie to their citizens, but citizens may be compelled to lie because they are afraid. This type of lying is called “self-preservation” and we can’t really blame people who are trying to save their or someone else’s lives. But for so-called leaders in an open society, persistent lying is unconscionable. In the end, no one will believe the liar even when he tells the truth!
Getting back to the common type of occasional lying, telling someone that they look great in an item of clothing when you don’t really think so probably won’t have lasting effects. We call this type of lying a “little white lie.” After all, that is really a matter of opinion. However, if there is a rip in the seat of their pants, it’s better to tell them the truth!