The Guardian recently published an excerpt from Robert Feldman’s The Liar In Your Life: How Lies Work And What They Tell Us About Ourselves, an in-depth look at all things 9th Commandment-related, and wow! (In the US, the name of the book was changed to The Liar In Your Life: The Way To Truthful Relationships – classic!) Most of the article details the results of a recent study on lying, conducted by Feldman at UMass. As riveting and sobering as the data itself may be, the conclusions are even more so; they tie dishonesty pretty directly to self-justification. Yet another example of how the Law of Who You Must Be – in order to liked or seen as competent – can be counterproductive, in this case the fruit being deceit (and self-deceit). But extinguish the “should” by embracing an identity (a righteousness) more secure than what we ourselves can conjure/maintain – something historical, something objective, for example or, dare I say, imputed – and who knows, transparency might just be byproduct. Just sayin, ht SZ:
All told, I found that most people lied three times in the course of a 10-minute conversation. Some lied as many as 12 times, and those are just the lies participants admitted to. It’s possible the frequency was even higher. Of course, it would be easy to conclude that the randomly selected participants in my study just happened to be unusually duplicitous, or that some factor in my study induced people to lie far more than they normally would. But my subsequent research on conversations between unacquainted strangers has shown, fairly consistently, that they lie to each other about three times every 10 minutes, both inside and outside the lab.
Participants in my study confessed to lies that were big and small, rooted in truth and fantastic, relatively defensible and simply baffling. Further, the lying was not limited to those to whom I had given a directive to appear likable or competent. These people lied with greater frequency, but even those with no specific agenda lied regularly.
But why lie to appear competent or likable? Why not just be yourself? In fact, “just being yourself”, if we examine it closely, takes creative effort. Our expression of who we are involves choices that reflect social and interpersonal context, our mood, our personality, our need to maintain our self-image and so on. If we consider self-presentation as a creative process, we can see how it can easily slide into deception. Every interaction involves decisions about which attributes to emphasize and which to minimize, which impulses to follow and which to ignore. At some point, we may not be choosing among our actual traits and our sincere reactions. We may simply fabricate the traits and reactions the social situation calls for, or that we think it calls for. In other words, we might lie.
On a related note, I got to catch the new documentary Forbidden Lies this past weekend, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the human capability for deception. Unbelievably gripping.
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