Cheating & Lying
What about honesty and lies? While there is high value placed on honesty, a
realistic look at human behavior reveals that deception is normal and story
telling always involves dishonesty. Each human projects the image of the honest
one and denies taking part in any deception whatsoever. The root lie is “I am an
honest man or woman”. This fundamental self-deception is practiced by all and
usually believed by all. Even a when a liar is caught fabricating his or her
story, he or she will usually persist in the claim “I am telling the truth”.
The idea is that individuals in all groups compete for position and prestige;
the drive is to at least maintain your social position or improve it if you can.
The risk of losing your social position is so threatening that all means of
protecting yourself arise spontaneously. Since humans use language as an
important social tool, any use of language that protects or enhances social
position is acceptable. A close examination of human behavior gives us the
1 There is no absolute truth.
2 Memories are not accurate and factual.
3. Story telling is a small part fact and large part fiction. Stories always
4. No and 'don't; are the two most important instructions for humans, young and
5. Human problems can by solved by not repeating harmful behaviors.
6. Humans have a strong tendency to repeat harmful behaviors.
Can we become more realistic about our limitations and push onward seeking an
ideal state of human conduct? Even if you want to tell the truth, it is
difficult to determine and to report true events. If we accept that deception is
a fundamental strategy of survival, then the issue is not if a human will
deceive others but when, where, how often, and with what consequences?
We even admire people who deceive us professionally – magicians, movie
directors, actors, psychics, faith healers, politicians, ministers and priests.
Picasso proclaimed that “all artists are liars”. We tell our children blatant
lies about tooth fairies, Easter bunnies, Santa Claus, angels, heaven and yes,
even God. The benevolent deception is designed in part to entertain, reassure
and alleviate suffering. For years, physicians have concealed the truth of
terminal illness and lied to their patients. Only recently have frank
discussions about disease prognosis and impending death become acceptable, but
not to all patients.
“Little white lies” involve omitting unpleasant information and changing
small details that the story will be more acceptable: “… it will only hurt a
little bit, dear.” Lying is both deliberate fabrication of a story that intends
to mislead and an integral part of all story-telling. Even in the most causal
conversations, people tell stories to influence and persuade the listener that
the teller is an admirable, good person. Telling "little white lies" is not
considered a moral crisis.
Story telling merges with other forms of persuasion and negotiation in
strategies of business and social success. Humans tell stories and make deals,
all out of self-interest. The stories and deals are always tilted in someone's
favor. If you censored television and movie scripts to rule out displays
of lying and systematic deception, the entertainment industry would all but
If you believe you have benevolent motives, you will also believe that
deception is a valid strategy when you negotiate with someone else, because you
have to overcome their resistance, their prejudices and their ignorance to
achieve a result that you desire. If you believe that the right deception will
achieve the best outcome, you will lie with more confidence and soon believe
your lies. The end justifies the means. Despite obvious ethical flaws in the
ends justify means argument; human conduct is almost always based on this
implicit assumption. The movie, Waking Ned Devine, is an example of
benevolent deception in an Irish Village on the Isle of Mann. Ned is a lucky
villager who died of a heart attack holding his lottery ticket when he
discovered, watching the draw on TV, that he was the big winner. His neighbors
conspire to divide the winnings among themselves by deceiving the lottery
official to believe that another villager, still alive, was Ned Divine. The
story is entertaining and I expect that many viewers would side with the
villagers, even though their actions were clearly fraudulent.
Network television sitcoms depend on similar plots involving deception, lying
and the consequences of being found out. The series, "Seinfeld" and "Two and a
Half Men" were popular, featuring characters who were inveterate liars. The
plots depended on the characters' inadequacies; their inability to form
meaningful relationships or to cope well with the simplest of life problems. The
main coping strategies were manipulation and deception. Laws are meant to be
circumvented. The issues were petty and trivial and the characters’ dependence
on deception both entertained and reflected life as the audience lived it.
Nonsense and fiction are easy to sell. Truth is more expensive. None of us
want to be constrained by hypercritical friends and colleagues who examine us
carefully and find fault with any detail of fact-finding, reporting, assumptions
and reasoning and yet, high standards are generally seen as prerequisites of
high accomplishments. High standards are imposed by law courts after the fact,
whenever laws are broken or contracts are disputed. To be more accurate in
assessing what is really going on out there, we require disciplined training and
the investment of time and energy is great.
All humans are lie detectors. Because each human subjects other humans to a
continuous a critical evaluation, an important part of story-telling involves
expressions and gestures that establish and maintain credibility. Body language
is detected by subconscious evaluation that tunes into facial expressions and
body language. Full face-to-face exposure, eye contact, smiling raised eyebrows,
and hand gestures that suggest an open, giving attitude are linked to honesty.
Discrepancies between the story spoken and body language leads to distrust. A
liar may look down and assume a defensive or threatening posture. Face or
forehead covering with one or both hands expresses anxiety or shame and suggests
lying. Tongue protrusion and lip licking suggest dishonesty.