Why Do We Lie?

Yes, this I know to be truth, we all lie. In fact, by the age of four, 90% of children have grasped the concept of lying and it is all downhill from there. According to a study by the University of Massachusetts, 60% of adults cannot carry on a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once. Most lie an average of three times during that brief time span.

FUN FACT: The average American lies eleven times per week. I do not lie that much, so I know some of you out there must be raising this average with all your tall tales. (Probably a lie on my part).

Why do we feel compelled to lie?

Our environment and the people around us that we interact with daily influence us to be less than truthful. Sadly, it is a part of what makes us human, and is reflected in both our business and personal lives. In addition, the frequency with which we lie does not change much as we mature and grow older.

OK, are there varying degrees of the truth?

In classical logic we have only two values – true or false. Therefore, when we use a system that accounts for differing degrees of truth, we refer to this as “fuzzy logic”. So, if we subscribe to the notion that there are differing degrees of truth, just how many are out there? The short answer is there are an infinite number of truths.

This same logic can be applied to lies as well. How many degrees of lies are out there, and when is lying acceptable? Two different questions, let us start with the first one. Much the same as truths, there are an infinite degree of lies from the little white ones to those big ‘ole whoppers that can be categorized.

So, why do we lie? Nine of the most common reasons we lie include:

  1. Inflate our self-image.
  2. Fear of punishment.
  3. Cover up a mistake.
  4. Cheating on a partner.
  5. Avoid conflict.
  6. Omission of facts.
  7. Protect our privacy.
  8. Gain control or influence.
  9. Hurt other people.

Now to the second question, lying should never be acceptable. It is always better to tell the truth rather than risk being caught in a lie. However, there are circumstances that could arise where telling a little ‘white lie’ may be viewed as acceptable. Particularly, if it enables you to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or sharing inappropriate information with a child.

In fact, a study about the ethics of lying conducted by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania concluded that “well-intentioned lies are considered to be moral” in today’s modern society. “Individuals with altruistic intentions are perceived to be more moral, more benevolent, and more honest, even when they lie.”

“O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Deception — not telling me something or hiding something on purpose is also a form of lying. Many years ago, I wrote a poem titled Halloween that addressed the harmful side effects that deception can cause. The poem was about a young man who had lost his way and struggled to find his place in the world and discover his true self.

We all wear masks with family, friends and in the workplace.

I mention this because some of our greatest lies or deceptions are often those that we tell ourselves, and the false personas we create are based upon those impressions. However, by not being our “true self” consistently, regardless of the audience or context, we run the risk of someday not being able to recognize the person looking back at us in the mirror.

FUN FACT: When you lie the temperature around your nose rises. This is referred to as the “Pinocchio effect”.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

I like to keep things simple, so let us agree that honesty is always the best policy. While the truth can be painful at times, it is always better to lead with it. Being a person who is honest, trustworthy and of high moral character, rather than the opposite, is the wise choice.

Is there a distinction between fact and truth?

Yes, absolutely! A fact is something that is true everywhere for everyone. It is a reality that cannot be logically disputed or rejected. Facts can be verified or proven using standard references or scientific experiments. For example, if I say, “ice is cold,” this can be scientifically proven by converting water to ice at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Or you could just hold an ice cube in your hand to discover this fact firsthand.

Facts are universal and do not change according to country, culture, religion, etc. Truth on the other hand, is something that is dependent upon a person’s perspective and life experiences. A truth is considered by many to be broader in scope than a fact. Why? Because unlike a fact, truth takes into consideration someone’s feelings or beliefs, which have no place in a fact. Truths can be subjective or changed where facts cannot be altered.

“People don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Boy, oh boy, does this quote perfectly reflect “a day in the life” of what we read and hear happening within the divisive political framework currently residing in Washington D.C., and the constantly negative daily news reports from the mainstream media. It is mind boggling!

Unfortunately, this is the epicenter where fuzzy logic and fake news have taken root and begun to chip away at honesty, integrity, and trust.

How do we avoid the temptation to spread lies, rumors, and misinformation because of our personal biases, perceptions, and attitudes? Adopt these basic guiding principles in your fair treatment and regard for others. In the immortal words of Marcus Aurelius, 16th Emperor of the Roman Empire, “If it is not true, do not say it. If it is not right, do not do it.”

Think of it this way. God made each of us to be an original, not a copy. Every time we tell a lie or misrepresent the truth, we are sacrificing a part of us, a part that makes us different and unique from each other. If you habitually lie, then eventually all of what makes you special will be gone and replaced by a lesser copy.

Do not allow tall tales to become your reality. Stay true to yourself. When you have the choice between the truth and a lie, choose wisely.

Do not become a cheap imitation of the original, strive to be the Best You instead.

Enjoy the journey!


COPYRIGHT © 2023 John Carroll