I was curious when I saw the headline “These 4 rules will let you know when it is okay to lie.” ‘Oh really,’ I thought, ‘someone has figured out when it is no longer bad to be dishonest and how to avoid the slippery slope that follows the white-lies are okay crowd.’ I read the article and will summarize: 1) don’t lie to yourself because this is called denial and you can’t deal with the reality of your life if you don’t acknowledge that reality, 2) don’t over-share where it is not appropriate, and 3) go ahead and lie if you want to destroy a relationship. Thus, the article itself gave pretty good advice that was realistic and helpful for navigating the complications of our lives, but the teaser was terrible, completely misleading and ironically a little deceptive. That made me say, ‘hmmm.’
I suppose that if the article had been titled, ‘Why you should not lie,” it would have been passed over. We pretty much all know that lying is bad so how many people are really going to click on an article link to tell them something they already know. But despite the fact that we know lying is not something we should do we do it, we lie and an article that gives us permission to do so becomes very interesting. I clicked on the article because I was pretty sure that whatever it said was going to be a bunch of hooey. I was pleasantly surprised to find that substantively it did not actually advocate being dishonest. I wondered, however about other people who clicked because they wanted to feel justified in lying and instead got something telling them that really lying wasn’t such a good idea after all. Did they feel betrayed by the promise of what was advertised? Is that karma do you think?
We all of us, those who lie and those who don’t, like to feel justified in our choices. I read the article because I wanted to be justified in thinking that the author was a self-centered jerk which was my immediate reaction to the headline. I was wrong of course but then I felt justified in thinking that it is wrong to lie. I still came out feeling okay, if only a little ashamed of the feeling of wanting to be right and being self-righteous. I suppose that some people read the article wanting to feel okay about doing something universally labeled ‘wrong’ and then were left feeling crummy because they were tricked into hearing more about how lying is wrong. I wonder if the author of the article had any misgivings about the title of the piece.
My experience is that we lie for two primary reasons, 1) because we are afraid of telling the truth, or 2) we think that the lie will get us the outcome we want. The two things are closely connected and both come into conflict with the article’s first point about not lying to yourself. I think the title of the article was certainly deceptive when it came to the underlying content so let’s use that as an example: maybe the title was written the way it was because the author was afraid that no one would read the piece if it had a less provocative message; maybe the title was designed to get more people to click on the article link, clicks equal advertising equal money so perhaps they were trying to manipulate the outcome. In either case the author failed to be honest with herself about what kind of attention the substantive article would attract and was dishonest with herself about her intention, she was manipulating reality. Is that action justified because maybe someone who did lie read the article and decided to stop, or because the author made a bunch more money, or because she has more attention and acclaim? This is the problem with lying: it is a complicated loop of deception and justification that just gets bigger, thicker and messier the more you participate.
Maybe I am a goody-goody but I think lying is wrong. Big lies, little lies, public lies and private lies. I think they add up and they burden your soul, not because you are going to be judged by some omnipotent power but because they are little ways of separating yourself from yourself, from reality, from genuine connection. It doesn’t always feel easier to be honest because then we have to deal with the consequences of interacting around genuine emotions, but it is always simpler to be who you are and life is complicated enough without each of us becoming a complication for ourselves.