Ian Leslie reveals in his new book that lying is as innate to us as communication – and just as important to our survival.
We all know, of course, that liars are always other people. Lovers who have fallen out accuse one another of deceit; voters declare all politicians liars; the religious charge the godless with hating the truth, while atheists accuse churchgoers of perpetuating the biggest lie of all.
It doesn’t matter which side you’re on in these arguments, the basic grammar is the same: I am a truth-teller, you try to bamboozle me with a self-serving fiction.
What’s strange is that, unlike stealing or murder, lying is a moral crime we all commit — and on a regular basis.
In one study, 147 people were asked to keep a diary for a week and note the number of times they intentionally misled someone. On average, they admitted to lying 1.5 times a day. And that is probably conservative.
We lie by saying: ‘I’m fine, thanks’ when we’re feeling miserable. We lie when we say: ‘What a beautiful baby’ while inwardly noting its resemblance to an alien. And most of us have simulated anger, sadness, affection, or said: ‘I love you’ when we don’t mean it.
We tell our children to smile and look grateful for the soap-on-a-rope grandma has given them for their birthday — and perhaps we add that if they don’t, Father Christmas won’t come this year.
Not only do we make exceptions to the prohibition against lying, sometimes we approve of it. If a doctor tells a bereaved husband his wife died instantly in the crash, rather than the truth — that she spent her last hours in horrific pain — we applaud the doctor’s compassion.
We call the lies we like ‘white lies’, but asked to define what makes a lie white we soon get lost in qualifications and contradictions. And while traditionally we frown upon liars, I’d argue that lying is a basic human necessity.
We exert our powers of deception virtually from birth. One study looked at the deceits children under the age of one engage in and, among many examples, found a nine-month-old faking laughter as a way of signalling that he wants to join in with others who are laughing.
Lying is as innate to us as communication — and just as important to our survival.
Most of us have, at some point, perhaps in a cab or around the canteen table, found ourselves faced with a choice between pretending to agree with a political statement in which we don’t believe, or being honest and risking an unpleasant argument.
We have to deal with conflicts between our desire to be truthful and our standing in the community — and often we choose to do so by lying.
‘Yes, that dress looks lovely on you.’ ‘I’m so sorry I’m busy that night.’ ‘Of course I don’t mind!’ White lies are sticking plasters we put over everyday social problems, they’re the way we avoid hurting people’s feelings.
People who are talented self-deceivers are more likely to be successful at school or in business than those who aren’t.
Don’t agree? Just imagine being brutally honest in all of the above situations and what would happen as a result.
YOU’LL FEEL FITTER AND HEALTHIER
Lying to others is only one part of it. There are also the lies we, sometimes unknowingly, tell ourselves. And this self-deception is essential for our health.
Take the research done into a form of laser surgery for heart disease. One study compared patients who’d had the surgery against those who’d had a fake operation. Twelve months later, most of the patients who had undergone the laser surgery were in much better shape.
They revelled in a rediscovered capacity for physical exercise. They reported that their heart pains had receded and that they were feeling healthier and fitter than they had done in years.
Yet the patients in the sham group were also rejuvenated. Despite not having had any treatment, they too felt years younger and the frequency of their angina pains declined.
In terms of effects on patients, there was no significant difference between the groups.
This is an example of the placebo effect, which has shown that if a person is given something they believe will make them feel better, then they will.
It has limits, of course. There’s no evidence to suggest it can stop the growth of cancerous tumours, for instance, but if we expect to feel better, we are more likely to get better — even if this expectation is based on a lie.
It actually helps our romantic relationships if we see our partners through rose-tinted glasses and see our own actions in a flattering light. There is good reason to think that this particular type of self-deception provided a survival or reproductive advantage.
LIES ARE CRUCIAL FOR RELATIONSHIPS
If you were asked for a short definition of sanity, you would probably say it had something to do with being free of illusions.
But actually it helps our romantic relationships if we see our partners through rose-tinted glasses and see our own actions — in choosing that specific partner, for example — in a flattering light.
There is good reason to think that this particular type of self-deception provided a survival or reproductive advantage and was therefore spread by natural selection.
A degree of unrealistic optimism about ourselves would have helped us survive in the treacherous ancestral environment and to confidently impress potential mates. Now we live in centrally heated houses rather than caves, but we still rely on illusions to carry us through life.
We imagine having children will make us happier even though studies suggest this is, at best, uncertain (anticipating our own happiness isn’t the only reason we have children, of course, but it certainly smooths the decision).
We fall in love with a person we believe is uniquely suited to us, and this helps us stick with them for long enough to raise those children.
And — crucially — most people believe their relationships to be better than most others.
FOOL YOURSELF AND BE A GREAT SUCCESS
People who are talented self-deceivers are more likely to be successful at school or in business than those who aren’t. Some economists believe countries become economically stagnant when business people are too rational and sensible.
We need over-optimistic entrepreneurs who are prepared to take irresponsible risks. Without people who are willing to ignore the prevailing wisdom and follow their instincts, many of our biggest innovations and creative leaps forward wouldn’t have happened.
Every year, thousands of people with vaulting ambitions start new companies in full awareness that the odds are against them achieving the kind of world-changing success of which they dream.
Most fail or settle for something less, but a few of those companies eventually become Apple or Starbucks or Dyson.
At every turn, it seems, life undermines any strict adherence to truth.
So whether you like it or not, you are a liar. The question is, which sort of liar?
THINK YOU NEVER LIE? BE TRUTHFUL IN OUR FUN QUIZ…
1 You are writing an online dating profile. Do you:
A. Stick to the facts on all particulars, but make your social life sound more interesting than it actually is.
B. Add 2in to your height and take five years off your age.
C. Blatantly lie about your marital status.
D. Write nothing but the unvarnished truth.
2 It’s Christmas and your mother-in-law gives you the same book she gave you last year (you hated it). Do you:
A. Gently remind her that she bought it for you last year and that you really enjoyed it.
B. Thank her profusely while claiming the author is a friend.
C. Tell her you’ve been looking forward to reading this book for years and that she must be able to read your mind.
D. Explain the situation honestly.
3 In a job interview, you are asked to name the achievement you are most proud of in your career. Do you:
A. Cite a project from your last job but make it sound more impressive than it was.
B. Invent a story about doubling the firm’s revenue.
C. Run through a few options from your entirely fictional CV before landing on the most impressive lie.
D. Tell them you can’t think of one right now.
4 You bump into an old friend pushing a pram and she invites you to admire her baby. It resembles a squashed tomato. Do you:
A. Tell her it’s lovely.
B. Weep and say you’re always moved to tears by beauty.
C. Claim it resembles your own (non-existent) child.
D. Enquire if the baby is sick.
5 Your friend goes on holiday and entrusts you with her dog. One day, you leave the front door open, he makes a run for it and gets run over. Do you:
A. Call your friend and break the bad news, without saying that you left the door open.
B. Tell your friend that while out walking the dog he ran off and although you threw yourself in front of the car, you failed to save him.
C. Buy a new dog that closely resembles your friend’s and train it to answer to Buster.
D. Tell your friend exactly what happened.
6 Your company fails to land a new contract with a key client after a member of your team screws up. Your boss asks you what happened. Do you:
A. Make up a reason for the failure that omits your colleague’s mistake.
B. Pretend the client was about to sever all ties with your firm until you saved the day with a heartfelt speech.
C. Wildly exaggerate the extent of your colleague’s misdemeanour; demand that he is fired and his salary is added to yours.
D. Tell the boss about your colleague’s mistake but take the blame yourself.
7 You borrow a friend’s designer coat to wear to a glamorous boat party and spill a glass of red wine on it. The coat is damaged irreparably. Do you:
A. Tell your friend that someone at the party (not you) spilt wine on the coat.
B. Say that you saw a shivering homeless person and gave them the coat.
C. Break off all relations with your friend since you never had any intention of returning the coat anyway.
D. Admit that you spilt wine on the coat and offer to pay for a replacement.
8 You’re paying for your child to have extra tuition to pass an entrance exam, but you don’t want other parents at school to know. When asked why he’s doing so well, do you:
A. Say he is getting help from a family friend.
B. Explain that you are highly gifted and so is your child.
C. Give them the number of a different tutor you know is not very good.
D. Tell them about the private lessons.
HOW YOU SCORED
Mostly A: Little White Liar. You tell porkies now and then, usually to avoid hurting people’s feelings.
Mostly B: Narcissist. Your lies are designed to impress upon everyone just how fabulous you are.
Mostly C: Sociopath. You have no compunction about lying to achieve your ends — even if other people end up getting hurt in the process.
Mostly D: Self-Deceiver. You never lie.
Link Original: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4787320/Proof-lying-GOOD-honest.html?ITO=applenews