It comes naturally; the lying, I mean.
After all, the object is not truth but persuasion.
Lies have a bad reputation and their consequences are worse.
It is undisputed that we all have lied at one point or other in our lives.
We hear lies everywhere all the time. Be it from the mouth of a politician, the local pastor, or from a parent or friend.
Lies are told all over the place by just about everybody you can name. The effect that lies have on their recipients is as varied as individuals can be.
A lie is simply an untruth; ‘a deviation, big or small, from what is known to be real.’
“It is a false statement deliberately presented as being true, thus misrepresenting a situation or giving a totally wrong impression about something.”
Life, the Universe and Everything says that there is probably not a single person who has ever lived who has not once in their life told a falsehood or misrepresented the truth, regardless of whether it was unintentional or if they told it so that someone else’s feelings would not be hurt – or if they did it for more sinister reasons.
Dr John Busak, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Neuropsychiatry Center at the University of New Delhi, says the pathology of lying is not as simple as it may seem.
“Investigations have shown that there are those who are genetically predisposed towards lying and deceit. Studies of twins and extended families have suggested that these genetic components are transmitted vertically.”
Paul Ekman, (Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage. New York: Norton), defines lying as “a deliberate choice to mislead a target without giving any notification of the intent to do so.” This, he says, includes both falsehoods and concealing the truth.
“A smile or gesture can be a lie just as much as a statement.” Another part of the definition is that lying involves a choice that is deliberate. An unintentional falsehood is not a lie.
Interestingly, it is not only humans who lie – if lying is synonymous with ‘presenting anything other than the truth.’ In fact, lying seems to be something every living creature is familiar with.
To this day, I do not know the colour of a chameleon as it lies to me every time it enters a new environment or moves past a different background.
Stick insects lie just as much by appearing to be twigs.
Lying is just another form of protection against danger or pain, ‘just as our anger is a form of protection against pain.’
A spouse may lie because he or she knows how their partner would react to the truth. His or her lying is a way of controlling their spouse’s reactions while the other partner’s anger is also a way of controlling their spouse’s behavior.
“As long as you get angry when you hear the truth, the chances are your spouse will lie to you,” says Dr Margret Paul (‘Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You?’). “It takes a very strong person to tell the truth and deal with another’s anger and judgment.”
We tell lies for various reasons, notable among which are to: get out of trouble, avoid getting into trouble; avoid punishment and/or embarrassment and so that we fit in with the group. We also lie to get someone into trouble; to keep a friend out of trouble; to make ourselves look more interesting to others by exaggerating, bragging or boasting; also to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, to diminish someone or to make them feel bad and to gain power.
Author Brian Martin writing in Social Anarchism (Telling Lies for a Better World), points out that scholars have followed virtue, devoting vast efforts to studying truth but ignored the study of lying.
“In the past two decades, though, a number of authors have challenged conventional wisdom, arguing that lying is not as bad as normally thought and that a number of other beliefs about lying are misconceived.”
Martin says that although truth is put on a pedestal, lying is ubiquitous.
He points out that children learn to lie at an early age, often being carefully taught. “Tell auntie how much you like the Christmas gift she bought for you.”
Parents, he says, regularly lie to their children, by commission or omission, and children eventually find out and learn from their parents’ example.
“In the classic double bind, children are expected to join in a lie that everyone pretends does not exist, such as statements of “We enjoyed your visit very much, please do come back again” while none in the family could stand the visitors.
Some literal lies are matters of convention and do not even fit Ekman’s definition of lying, assuming everyone involved knows what is expected.
I was personally involved in this conversation at the Extension 2 Clinic shortly before Christmas:
“Ah, long time my friend! How are you?”
“I am fine, my friend, how are you?”
“I am fine. What’s the matter? What are you doing here?”
Both of us were not fine as we sat in the queue holding our medical cards waiting to be attended to…
However, Martin goes on to say that lies in the course of business are routine: “It was a pleasure to assist you.”
Lies of politeness, such as “I really enjoyed that party,” are standard. Lies are commonly used to bolster someone’s self-esteem, often being invited by the target: “How do I look?” “You look great.”
In relationships, some deceptions are ongoing, because to speak the truth would be too damaging. This might involve not voicing thoughts about sexual performance or simply laughing at the same unfunny jokes.
Courts don’t like liars either. They call it ‘perjury’ and it is a pretty serous offense as a local former civil servant found out just before Christmas when he was sentenced to nine years in jail for, among others, “giving false information…”
And just a month before that, in November 2007, a court in the UK found that “a person can be guilty of deceit when he lies to a machine rather than a human.”
“The point of principle which thus arises is whether it is possible in law to find a person liable in deceit if the fraudulent misrepresentation alleged was made not to a human being, but to a machine,” wrote judge Richard Seymour QC. “I see no objection in principle to holding that a fraudulent misrepresentation can be made to a machine acting on behalf of the claimant, rather than to an individual, if the machine is set up to process certain information in a particular way in which it would not process information about the material transaction if the correct information were given,” he continued.
“For the purposes of the present action, as it seems to me, a misrepresentation was made to the Importer (automaker Renault UK) when the Importer’s computer was told that it should process a particular transaction as one to which the discounts for which the pilots’ affinity scheme provided applied, when that was not, in fact, correct.”
Everybody lies. It may only be “white” lies, but everyone tells lies or “omits the truth” sometimes.
“We start lying at around age 4 to 5 when children gain an awareness of the use and power of language,” says NBC’s Dr Gail Saltz.
“Interestingly,” says Jamie Walters, (When Do You Lie?: Strategies For More Authentic, Respectful Communication), “it’s possible that the intention behind telling a lie might, on occasion, be well-meaning, although often ego or self-centeredness are at the root. Regardless, it’s how the intention is executed that’s unacceptable, or that results in a strained relationship and a high-stress mindset.”
On the other hand, there are times when it doesn’t seem like a good idea to tell the truth.
Telling the truth at times has as much disastrous consequences as lying. A case in point is when a child is told off for saying things like, “Mum said she hopes you don’t stay long” as you say hello to visitors and your mum is dying of embarrassment standing next to you?
But the biggest liar I have come across is the bee orchid. And it’s a plant. With its bee-like colouring and pattern, this plant fools living bees into mating with it, and they do, thus propagating the bee orchid’s seed to other bee orchid plants.
In my opinion, we shouldn’t tell a lie unless we are placed in a harmful situation. Besides, to be a good liar one has to have a terrific memory to remember all the lies you told and to whom you told them!
Lying should be kept to a minimum because its consequences are so often undesirable.
OTHER SOURCES: Life, the Universe and Everything, the Internet, Kids’ Health, Thomas Macaulay, Wikipedia.