‘Tell people the truth, because they know the truth anyway.’
An effective way to avoid lying to ourselves is to avoid lying in general. When I say ‘lying’ I mean purposely deceiving someone, even though what might be said is technically the truth. When I’m at Speakers’ Corner and call myself ‘the spiritual advisor to the Dalai Lama’ I’m not lying; my grasshoppers know it’s a big fib and laugh.
I’m not suggesting that we don’t lie for moral reasons. This book isn’t about helping us become good citizens, it’s about how we can become resilient.
I see it this way: if we lie regularly we will get good at it, and lose sight of the boundaries of when it is alright to lie, and when it isn’t. Then we end up living on the surface of life, skimming from one lie to the next, with our life lacking substance. Even close relationships would be shallow, because lies eat away at trust and intimacy. On both broad and intimate levels, lies disconnect us from humanity. They violate us.
And, the more we lie, the more anxious we become of being found out, and of looking stupid. To avoid feeling that way, we start believing our own lies, then look like a goose. Or, if we are caught out lying, and try to justify it by saying the recipient deserved the lie, or that it’s okay to lie because everyone lies, we look even more like a goose. We spiral into goosedom. And, because we are not confronting the problem honestly, we don’t get to properly solve it.
The philosopher Robert Tilley said that ‘when we lie we apprehend the ghostly, the void . . . we sense the abyss.’ He’s right. We can feel the violation when we lie. We know that each time we lie we create discord within us, and we like ourselves less.
If we don’t lie we won’t have to suffer the anxiety of being caught out, and we won’t spiral into goosedom. Other people will trust us more, and more importantly, we will trust ourselves more. We know we can depend on ourselves, because we are not driven by the need to gain. That indicates self-sufficiency and resilience. Further, we know that what we say has substance, because it’s the truth, and so we feel that we ourselves have substance. We know that what we say counts, that it matters. And so, in that unassailable position, we feel safer in the world.
‘When we lie, the more fear we feel, for we are drawing closer to the inner rooms that are haunted.’
‘Truth may be seen as a bone that we, puppy-like, bury and re-bury in a thousand backyards and rubbish dumps – in poetry, painting and song – for the sheer, tail-wagging pleasure of finding it again. Even just for the joy of the hunt. Sometimes, of course, we forget where we hid our truth; sometimes we even forget there ever was a truth to find. Then we persist with the hunt for a while but soon, deprived of possibility, forget that there was any fun to be had and give up. That’s when we settle down, head on paws, in front of the telly. That’s when we slip into Blubberland.’
From Elizabeth Farrelly’s book, ‘Blubberland. The Dangers of Happiness.‘
Q. ‘What do you mean by “don’t lie”?’
– Don’t deceive. Don’t mislead. Don’t evade. Don’t obfuscate. Don’t omit information.
– Don’t be like a ‘lawyer’ using a technicality or a loophole.
– Don’t cheat, even if you can legally get away with it. When you cheat someone you perceive that person as a resource, rather than a person with feelings. That won’t help you grow, and it won’t help you feel connected.
– Don’t use the law or regulations to justify lying or cheating. Consult your own moral code.
‘. . . we know, deep down, that these justifications often are specious; that they really don’t hold water. Hence, we do not want to look too closely at them, nor do we want others to do so either. We then employ all sorts of tactics to throw ourselves and others off, chiefly by nobbling reason. Thus we go off at tangents, throw tantrums, get angry, seek distractions, and introduce a million and one different arguments so that one cannot follow one argument all the way through.’
Philosopher, Robert Tilley.
Q. ‘What you say sounds good in theory, but the rest of us live in the real world.’
If you live openly and honestly, soon all you will seek is the truth. That’s a big advantage in the real world.
Q. ‘There are benefits to lying. I can save money lying about my age, and get a job lying about my qualifications . . . There are all sorts of benefits.’
True. But becoming resilient and adding to your core happiness won’t be one of those benefits. Your choice.
‘My friend lied on her resumé and now has the perfect job, and she is good at it. She’s happy. Had she not lied she would either have a lousy job, or be unemployed.’
The fact that she was willing to lie to get the job suggests that she might lie often in other aspects of her life. Will the disadvantages of that habit outweigh the benefits of having the perfect job? I don’t know. This is a philosophy book and I don’t have the wisdom to take into account seven billion personalities with countless scenarios, and come up with flawless material.
‘That was an exception. She doesn’t normally lie.’
If my life were in danger I’d lie to become safe again. I would be happy to forgo the benefits of not lying if my life depended on it. After all, it’s no use maintaining my core happiness if I am going to be dead in ten minutes. In the same way, I might lie to gain the perfect job. (And let someone more deserving miss out?) I might choose to forgo the benefit of not lying in order to gain a long-term benefit. Would that be wise? I don’t know.
‘Shouldn’t you be more certain of your material?’
When I’m certain of my material it’s a worry.
Besides, does my advice have to be 100% correct 100% of the time to have value? Does the occasional exception mean that what I say is wrong? Should we ditch the proverb ‘He who hesitates is lost’ because we can think of exceptions? Should we ditch the proverb, ‘Look before you leap’ because we can think of exceptions?
Should we ditch both proverbs, because they contradict each other?
Q. ‘White lies are okay, aren’t they?’
Praise a lousy singer and you set that person up to be embarrassed.
‘What if a guy with a head on him like a robber’s dog asks me if he’s ugly? What do I tell him?’
You’re not obliged to express an opinion. It’s not fair that he asks.
‘But what if he insists?’
We benefit when we tell the truth; now and then we can forgo that benefit. But consider: is it good to tell your spouse they look good in those clothes, when they don’t? Is it not better to make a habit of being tactfully honest so that the trust between you grows?
Also, the people who ask in order to be reassured will soon come to know that you tell the truth, and will only ask questions when they’re prepared for truthful answers.
Q. ’If a guy who doesn’t interest me asks me out, I tell him I have a boyfriend. Surely that’s the kind way to deal with the situation?’
Agreed. Although we benefit when we tell the truth, it can be kind at times to forgo that benefit. That said, the Russians have a proverb: ‘Better to be slapped with the truth than kissed with a lie.” And, as Julian Baggini says, ‘“Nothing but the truth” is the wrong maxim if things other than truth matter more. The most obvious examples are of courtesy and concern for people’s feelings, where kindness matters more than revealing the full, naked truth. Even here, however, we need to be careful. There is a risk of second guessing what is best for people or what we think they are able to deal with. Normally, it is better to allow people to make up their own minds on the basis of facts. Withholding truth for someone’s own benefit is sometimes justified but often it simply diminishes their autonomy. This is what Kant got right when he claimed that lying violates the dignity of man.’
Julian Baggini, in his article, ‘The Whole Truth’, in prospectmagazine.co.uk
Q. ‘What about that age old question: ‘If the Nazi’s come looking for someone, do we tell them?’
Again, we can choose to forgo the benefit of telling the truth.
‘Can a woman lie to a prospective employer if she is asked if she intends to have children? Is it okay to lie when negotiating with a car dealer?’
You figure it out. This book isn’t about the ethics of lying. It’s not about ethics at all. It’s about becoming resilient. The message is: get into the habit of telling the truth. When it comes to making exceptions – on compassionate or pragmatic grounds – that’s your choice.
Q. ‘I should try to be truthful? Sure: now I can tell my sister her drawings suck.’
Can you find a way to be truthful and positive?
‘How about: “Your drawing doesn’t suck as much as the last one”?’
Something like that.
Q. ‘Lying is natural to our species. Why avoid an innate behaviour?’
Yes, lying would have conferred upon our species a significant survival advantage, but I’m talking about becoming happier. We can do more than just survive; we can grow.
1. Don’t assume that one day you will get around to not lying. It doesn’t happen that way. It requires a firm decision and diligence. You don’t simply acquire honesty and integrity; you have to cultivate them. Start now, and be firm.
2. Liars from birth: about one person in every hundred on the planet is either a sociopath or a psychopath. Rarely do they commit the atrocities you find in the movies; instead, they live their lives the way you and I do but without regard for others. They lack empathy, compassion and remorse because they aren’t ‘wired’ to experience those emotions. They tell lies to get what they want, and are good at it. They appear genuine and will fool you every time, because they don’t exhibit the usual cues that would give a healthy person away. Some of them run large companies or organisations; others destroy large companies or organisations. They are good manipulators. You have met them and not realised it. You will meet them again.
‘Lying is one of the fastest ways to erode your self esteem. Every time you lie . . . to get some sort of result, regardless of how successful you are, your subconscious is aware you had to lie to get there. What you actually do is reinforce a negative belief about your value as a human being . . .’
Damien Diecke, in his book, ‘Sincere Seduction’
‘. . . a dedication to honesty motivates us to strive to become all the good things lying helps us pretend we already are. . . . it unmasks a character defect we then have the opportunity to change.’