People are telling the truth when they tell you they don’t lie. That’s because they honestly believe they don’t. But they do. We all do. We all do it all day long. We either lie or we spread someone else’s mistruths. We do this selfishly, although it’s a sweet kind of selfish where all we really want is to be part of the group. And since the group values information, we want to have valuable information, which is why secrets are the most valuable—because so few people know them.
Of course, it’s the secret part that has the value, so a fake secret is just as good as a real one. People will exaggerate to generate excitement. Every teenage boy knows the best mechanic, martial artist and computer hacker in the world. And then of course there’s manipulative lying, where people are sharing mistruths in an attempt to influence the person they’re speaking with. Since everyone naturally wants to be a part of the tribe, if the friend you’re talking to doesn’t like someone then they have to get you to not like that other person too. Because otherwise you and the other person might form your own group and exclude the friend. It’s like the Peter Gabriel lyric, “How can we be ‘1n’ if there is no ‘outside?'”
Humans like to be involved. We like to be in situations where lots of fellow tribesmen are affirming our inclusion, which is why fame is so appealing. We just want to belong and we’ll tell any story that will help us. That includes hiding our weaknesses.
There’s a video I recently saw on the web of a couple in a car who are angry at a one ton truck driver for whatever reason. In their attempt to get revenge, they speed up in front of the truck on the highway and then they brake-check him. The truck weighs too much so it’s physically impossible for it to slow down in time, so he smashes into their rear end. It’s revenge gone horribly bad. They’re fine, but their car is destroyed and there’s film proving it’s their fault. Now what story do you think that couple will tell their friends?
By the time friends hear that story, all of their culpability will be explained very reasonably, whereas the truck driver will be painted as an even bigger jerk than he may or may not have been. They very genuinely won’t want to own their own mistake and so they will largely subconsciously construct a version of events that keeps them in the tribe. A story that has them as victims and not as assholes. But no matter how you slice it, if you brake-check a truck you’re not only lacking in an understanding of physics, but you’re also not a victim. You went out and aggressively sought your accident. But when have you ever heard that story? The one where the person admits full fault and takes responsibility? It’s rare, we all know it. And it’s rare because we hardly do it. Because we lie instead.
I’m not making a judgment call here. I’m not saying people shouldn’t do it. They can’t help but do it. It’s simply a byproduct of who and what we are. Human ego, language and the natural desire to belong all combine to create this strange world where we tell each other we’ve done work we haven’t done, that we’ve visited gyms we didn’t go to, that we’ve slept with people we didn’t sleep with, and that we like people’s cooking and haircuts even if we don’t. We lie to save face, to save time and to save money. Ironically, we primarily do it to get respect.
If you think you don’t lie you either haven’t paid attention or you’re lying right now. As that little five year old in the hospital, it was the first thing I noticed. All the staff that came into my room lied to all the other staff that came in the room. And they all did it innocently. They didn’t see their lie as a bad thing. Addicts and cheaters feel genuinely guilty and so they lie and create extra-nice things they’ve done to cushion the dirty secrets they know they’re hiding. People lie to conceal other big mistakes they’ve made as well. They lie so you’ll think they’re smarter, tougher, more experienced, more connected more more more. They’ll lie so you think more of them. And you do the same thing.
Start to monitor your lies. That’s your ego at work. Watch it manipulate things. Observe your lies and determine their objectives. Come to understand yourself better. The great part is, not only will you benefit from greater personal understanding, but you’ll also be much more forgiving of the lies you hear from others. And some empathy and compassion is always good for the world.
Have yourself a wonderful day. And I mean that. I really really really do. 😉
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.