Cheating & Lying
What about honesty and lies? While there is high value placed on honesty, a realistic look at human behavior reveals that deception is normal and story telling always involves dishonesty. Each human projects the image of the honest one and denies taking part in any deception whatsoever. The root lie is “I am an honest man or woman”. This fundamental self-deception is practiced by all and usually believed by all. Even a when a liar is caught fabricating his or her story, he or she will usually persist in the claim “I am telling the truth”.
The idea is that individuals in all groups compete for position and prestige; the drive is to at least maintain your social position or improve it if you can. The risk of losing your social position is so threatening that all means of protecting yourself arise spontaneously. Since humans use language as an important social tool, any use of language that protects or enhances social position is acceptable. A close examination of human behavior gives us the following precepts:
1 There is no absolute truth.
Can we become more realistic about our limitations and push onward seeking an ideal state of human conduct? Even if you want to tell the truth, it is difficult to determine and to report true events. If we accept that deception is a fundamental strategy of survival, then the issue is not if a human will deceive others but when, where, how often, and with what consequences?
We even admire people who deceive us professionally – magicians, movie directors, actors, psychics, faith healers, politicians, ministers and priests. Picasso proclaimed that “all artists are liars”. We tell our children blatant lies about tooth fairies, Easter bunnies, Santa Claus, angels, heaven and yes, even God. The benevolent deception is designed in part to entertain, reassure and alleviate suffering. For years, physicians have concealed the truth of terminal illness and lied to their patients. Only recently have frank discussions about disease prognosis and impending death become acceptable, but not to all patients.
“Little white lies” involve omitting unpleasant information and changing small details that the story will be more acceptable: “… it will only hurt a little bit, dear.” Lying is both deliberate fabrication of a story that intends to mislead and an integral part of all story-telling. Even in the most causal conversations, people tell stories to influence and persuade the listener that the teller is an admirable, good person. Telling "little white lies" is not considered a moral crisis.
Story telling merges with other forms of persuasion and negotiation in strategies of business and social success. Humans tell stories and make deals, all out of self-interest. The stories and deals are always tilted in someone's favor. If you censored television and movie scripts to rule out displays of lying and systematic deception, the entertainment industry would all but disappear.
If you believe you have benevolent motives, you will also believe that deception is a valid strategy when you negotiate with someone else, because you have to overcome their resistance, their prejudices and their ignorance to achieve a result that you desire. If you believe that the right deception will achieve the best outcome, you will lie with more confidence and soon believe your lies. The end justifies the means. Despite obvious ethical flaws in the ends justify means argument; human conduct is almost always based on this implicit assumption. The movie, Waking Ned Devine, is an example of benevolent deception in an Irish Village on the Isle of Mann. Ned is a lucky villager who died of a heart attack holding his lottery ticket when he discovered, watching the draw on TV, that he was the big winner. His neighbors conspire to divide the winnings among themselves by deceiving the lottery official to believe that another villager, still alive, was Ned Divine. The story is entertaining and I expect that many viewers would side with the villagers, even though their actions were clearly fraudulent.
Network television sitcoms depend on similar plots involving deception, lying and the consequences of being found out. The series, "Seinfeld" and "Two and a Half Men" were popular, featuring characters who were inveterate liars. The plots depended on the characters' inadequacies; their inability to form meaningful relationships or to cope well with the simplest of life problems. The main coping strategies were manipulation and deception. Laws are meant to be circumvented. The issues were petty and trivial and the characters’ dependence on deception both entertained and reflected life as the audience lived it.
Nonsense and fiction are easy to sell. Truth is more expensive. None of us want to be constrained by hypercritical friends and colleagues who examine us carefully and find fault with any detail of fact-finding, reporting, assumptions and reasoning and yet, high standards are generally seen as prerequisites of high accomplishments. High standards are imposed by law courts after the fact, whenever laws are broken or contracts are disputed. To be more accurate in assessing what is really going on out there, we require disciplined training and the investment of time and energy is great.
All humans are lie detectors. Because each human subjects other humans to a continuous a critical evaluation, an important part of story-telling involves expressions and gestures that establish and maintain credibility. Body language is detected by subconscious evaluation that tunes into facial expressions and body language. Full face-to-face exposure, eye contact, smiling raised eyebrows, and hand gestures that suggest an open, giving attitude are linked to honesty. Discrepancies between the story spoken and body language leads to distrust. A liar may look down and assume a defensive or threatening posture. Face or forehead covering with one or both hands expresses anxiety or shame and suggests lying. Tongue protrusion and lip licking suggest dishonesty.