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Friday, May 26, 2017

The Truth About Lying

Written by  Brian George Hose

In light of recent political events, I’ve been thinking a lot about lies and deception. Luckily Pamela Meyer, expert on lying and author of the 2010 book Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, has the answers. What follows are some facts from her 2011 TED talk, How To Spot a Liar, available for free at Ted.com, along with my personal commentary.

Lying is a part of all our lives. Studies show that the average person is lied to between ten and 200 times each day. Granted, most of these are small lies, what some people call “white lies” or “fibs,” but regardless of what we call them, we are still deceived every day. What’s interesting is that the kinds of lies we tell and how often we tell them often depends on our relationship with the person or people we are interacting with. For example, men tend to lie mostly about themselves, whereas women lie more to protect other people, and we all lie more to strangers than the people we work with. Research shows that strangers lie three times within the first ten minutes of meeting each other, which indicates that we reserve the truth for people we already know and care about. The irony is that it’s difficult to really get to know someone if your early interactions are peppered with lies. Maybe this is why dating and finding “the one” can be so difficult.

Lying may be an ability we were born with, something that’s part of our evolution. The more intelligent a species is, the more likely it is to lie or engage in deception. Take for instance Koko, the gorilla that was taught sign language. When asked how a sink was ripped from the wall, Koko responded that her pet kitten was responsible. Nice try, Koko.

Humans are even better at lying than gorillas. Babies can fake crying, one year olds can conceal, two year olds can bluff, five year olds can verbally lie and use flattery to manipulate others, and by nine years old we are masters of the cover up. Just imagine what we’re capable of as adults, especially if we work in politics.

It turns out that there’s good news about lying. According to Meyer, lying is a cooperative act, meaning a lie only has power if it is accepted as truth. If we refuse to accept lies, our world becomes a more honest place. This may mean choosing if and when to challenge a suspected liar. We may accept a friend’s lie that they were late because of traffic because it isn’t worth arguing about, but refuse to accept lies that have real stakes and consequences attached. In other words, we have a good deal of say in how much lying and deception we allow in our lives.

Another good thing about lies is that they often give us a glimpse of the truth. Meyer describes lies as a bridge between the person we really are and the person we wish we could be. Take men, who tend to lie about themselves. If you get the feeling a man is exaggerating his best qualities to the point of deception, all you have to do is work backwards to get a sense of the truth he’s hiding. By telling you who he wants to be, he’s also telling you who he really is, which is a person less than he claims to be. Sound familiar?

Lying might not always be bad, but lying should always be handled with care. When we want to build a bridge between who we are and who we want to be, we must remember that if we’re caught in a lie that bridge may suddenly become a wall, a barrier between us and the people we lie to. Once our integrity is questioned, it may be difficult, even impossible, to make amends and earn the trust of those we’ve deceived. And that’s the truth.

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