Jun 15

Lies and More Lies: Who to Believe? Try These Resources

Lies and more lies. Politics, am I right? Dan Ariely, author of The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves (2012), has stated, “It turns out that people want their politicians to lie to them — people view politics as a means to an end, and if they care about the ends, they’re willing for the means to be a little bit more crooked” (Jesse Singal, The Cut).

But it’s not just about politics. Ariely also believes that virtually everyone lies. Yael Melamede‘s 2015 documentary (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies, which featured Ariely’s research and insights, drew this review headline from Anna Pulley, Village Voice: “Dishonesty Reminds Us That Our Pants Are Still On Fire.”

“Perhaps most interestingly,” says Pulley, “(Dis)Honesty shows us how we rationalize that mendacity.”

And some lies are worse—way worse—than others. Dennis Harvey, Variety:

Any era is a good one for liars, but folks on every point of the moral or political spectrum are likely to agree: We are living in a fibbers’ renaissance. As Yael Melamede’s documentary notes, various bendings of the truth have among other things recently led us into war, crashed the economy, and allowed potentially catastrophic despoiling of the planet to continue more or less unchecked.

You might be thinking right about now that politicians are the worst? Well, apparently bankers top them, says Ariely.

Pamela Meyer, acknowledging we live in a “post-truth society,” speaks with authority on this subject. Her 2010 book is called Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception. She uses a 5-step BASIC method to ascertain whether someone is lying or not (Baseline behavior; Ask open-ended questions; Study the clusters; Intuit the gaps; Confirm).

Things would be a whole lot better, of course, if more people told the truth in the first place. Author/neuroscientist Sam Harris, has a brief 2011 Kindle book called Lyingin which he…

…argues that we can radically simplify our lives and improve society by merely telling the truth in situations where others often lie. He focuses on ‘white’ lies—those lies we tell for the purpose of sparing people discomfort—for these are the lies that most often tempt us. And they tend to be the only lies that good people tell while imagining that they are being good in the process.

Selected quotes from Lying:

 A wasteland of embarrassment and social upheaval can be neatly avoided by following a single precept in life: Do not lie.

Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship.

By lying, we deny others a view of the world as it is. Our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they can make—and in ways we cannot always predict. Every lie is a direct assault upon the autonomy of those we lie to.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) remains one of the foremost authorities on lying and truth-telling. He pointed out one of the most practical aspects of lying:

If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.

And that should be a strong enough incentive, don’t you think?

Dec 13

Dishonesty: Dan Ariely’s “Honest Truth”

Acts of honesty are incredibly important for our sense of social morality. And although they are unlikely to make the same sensational news, if we understand social contagion, we must also recognize the importance of publicly promoting outstanding moral acts. Dan Ariely, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty

The rampant rise of dishonesty and deceit, starting at an individual level and spreading societally, has been wholly disheartening.

Below are additional quotes from researcher Dan Ariely‘s 2012 The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. All of us can learn to become more truth-seeking in our daily lives. It will make a difference.

We’re storytelling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and that sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better.

Put simply, the link between creativity and dishonesty seems related to the ability to tell ourselves stories about how we are doing the right thing, even when we are not. The more creative we are, the more we are able to come up with good stories that help us justify our selfish interests.

I suspect that self-deception is similar to its cousins, overconfidence and optimism, and as with these other biases, it has both benefits and disadvantages. On the positive side, an unjustifiably elevated belief in ourselves can increase our general well-being by helping us cope with stress; it can increase our persistence while doing difficult or tedious tasks; and it can get us to try new and different experiences. We persist in deceiving ourselves in part to maintain a positive self-image. We gloss over our failures, highlight our successes (even when they’re not entirely our own), and love to blame other people and outside circumstances when our failures are undeniable….On the negative side, to the extent that an overly optimistic view of ourselves can form the basis of our actions, we may wrongly assume that things will turn out for the best and as a consequence not actively make the best decisions. Self-deception can also cause us to “enhance” our life stories with, say, a degree from a prestigious university, which can lead us to suffer a great deal when the truth is ultimately revealed. And, of course, there is the general cost of deception. When we and those around us are dishonest, we start suspecting everyone, and without trust our lives become more difficult in almost every way.

Eight-year-old Jimmy comes home from school with a note from his teacher that says, “Jimmy stole a pencil from the student sitting next to him.” Jimmy’s father is furious. He goes to great lengths to lecture Jimmy and let him know how upset and disappointed he is, and he grounds the boy for two weeks. “And just wait until your mother comes home!” he tells the boy ominously. Finally he concludes, “Anyway, Jimmy, if you needed a pencil, why didn’t you just say something? Why didn’t you simply ask? You know very well that I can bring you dozens of pencils from work.

The first dishonest act is the most important one to prevent.