It Wasn’t Me, Your Honour!
Recently I was sitting on the couch watching TV with my son and our dog. Although he’s still a cute puppy he can cut the cheese with such potency that anyone in the strike zone is left gasping and reeling for cover. On this particular occasion the ‘cheese’ smelt a little different. I looked at the dog, and then to my son who started to laugh. “It was him,” he said, pointing at the dog. As my son’s nose started to grow like Pinocchio’s I couldn’t help but laugh as well, not because of the smell but because of his quick but subtle use of the ‘white lie’.
“Thou shalt not lie” is one of the ten comandments, or more specifically, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” It sounds heavy; way too heavy if you measure it up against a kid blaming his fart on the dog. All the same, any lie falls under the banner of deception. In the technical sense, the person lying manipulates information to achieve some end, while the listener evaluates the truthfulness of that information. A lie, when put pure and simple, is deception by commission; it’s the deliberate presentation of false information.
The reasons we lie vary but they generally fall into two categories; altruistic or self-serving. In other words, we lie to protect someone or to seek some form of personal gain.
There are generally three types of lie; the white lie, hyperbole (exaggeration) and a flat out bald-faced lie. I suspect all of us have told a lie at some point but it’s the intent behind the lie that carries the weight. Indeed, a well-crafted white lie can have the same effect as a deliberate fabrication. Typically, though, white lies involve minimal falsification and have limited consequence – somehow they don’t seem as bad.
A two year-old kid who claims they haven’t had any cake, even though they have chocolate around their mouth, can actually come across as funny. Similarly, you might say you love your wife’s new dress even though it’s hideous, to protect her feelings.
Exaggeration is a bit more sophisticated. Here, the truth gets stretched and the more the embellishment the higher up it goes on the intensity scale.
The bald-faced lie is definitely the most deceitful. Its impact can be quite emotional, depending on the importance of the relationship between the people involved. Honesty here is key; the more blatant the lie, the harder it becomes to believe them in the future.
The reasons we lie vary. Self-serving deception is the most damaging. This includes personal gain, exploitation, self-preservation and even teasing when it includes messages that aren’t true. For the compulsive liar the reasons become more complex. Although pathological lying is not a clinical diagnosis it can be a symptom of some other personality disorder. For the compulsive liar, reasons may include not wanting to give up control, not wanting to disappoint, and actually wanting the lie to be true. According to Professor Jordan B. Peterson, often what underlies such manipulation and deception is stress and desperation.
Peterson is passionate about truth and states that an untruth, however well meant, can produce unintended consequences. He goes further: if you say things that are not true then you weaken your character, find yourself in unpleasant situations and ultimately betray others as well as yourself. Eventually deception leads to harm, especially to others, with the big one being a loss of trust – the linchpin in any relationship and very hard to fix once it’s been damaged.
All this sounds dramatic and perhaps a tad preachy but Peterson does have a point; if you find yourself living in a way where your life is not what it could be, try telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – or at least don’t lie.
As for my son, well his little white lie was for the purposes of entertainment, mixed with a feeble attempt to protect his self-image, so I’ll let him off for that. And the dog? Well, he’s asleep on his mat, totally oblivious to any of this. Perhaps he has a better understanding of this than anyone.
For further information, please email Jeremy at bondicounsellingservices.com.