Lying and Deceit



     Lies, and especially liars, have been universally demonized through the ages notwithstanding that lies are the lubricant that keeps the machinery of social, family, and business life running without undue interpersonal friction.  Truth, alternatively, is almost always treated as a meta-virtue.  Indeed, truth itself is regarded as a victim. “The men that American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.” H.L. Mencken:  The Vintage Mencken, edited by Alistair Cook, Knopf, p. 73. 

            Some pundits, however, appreciate that truth may be overrated.  “A truth that’s told with bad intent; Beats all the lies you can invent.”  William Blake:  Auguries of Innocence.  Some literal truths are recognized as more devilish than straightforward prevarication.  “There are three kinds of lies:  Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  Benjamin Disraeli:  Attributed by Mark Twain, Autobiography.  Indeed, even attempting to neither lie nor speak the truth does not immunize one from moral critique.  “The cruelest lies are often told in silence.”  Robert Louis Stevenson:  Vigiribus Pureisque.

            Acknowledging that lies are a must of social intercourse, others have focused on an imaginary typology of lies.  A classification as a “white” lie is an especially potent justifier.  Of course, everybody tells white lies.  The lies that everybody tells me are the other kind of lies.  A wiser evaluation of lying looks to the function of  the lie and what it facilitates.  In the final analysis Holmes was right.  “Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle that fits them all.”  Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.):  The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.  It is the underlying “sin” the lie facilitates that must be evaluated because, in the final analysis, a lie is as large as the evil that results from it.  When a good results from a lie, it has all the virtues of truth, and, indeed it may bespeak a better man.  “Any fool can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well.”  Samuel Butler:  Note-Books.  This being true, you must be prepared to be revealed; for most lies never live to be old.  (Paraphrase of Sophocles: Acrisius, Fragment 59)


Advice on Lying

1.  Struggle not to lie to your wife, your best friend, your psychotherapist, your physician, and your children.

2.  Don’t lie for the purpose of hurting someone.

3.  Use lies, in the form of excuses, when you wish to decline social invitations; this will save you unnecessarily hurting people.

4.  When you lie, lie skillfully.  When lying avoid complexities (keep it simple), avoid saying things that can be verified or shown to be false, utilize some truth, and avoid creating a situation where you’ll have to tell another lie to cover for the first lie.

5.  Don’t lie in order to make yourself look important.  Specifically, don’t lie about your skills, heritage, money, or power.

6.  During job interviews don’t be afraid to lie about your health, your age, your future plans, or your prior history (e.g., prison or mental hospital record).

7.  Don’t endorse any value system that requires that you always be honest.  Accept the necessity of lying periodically.

8.  Shortly after telling a lie, change the subject.  The longer you talk about the lie the more likely it is that you’ll make the lie detectable.

9.  Don’t ever lie to yourself.  Don’t fall into the trap of believing the lies you’ve told others.

10.  Attempt to plan your lies rather than making them up on the spot.  When planning a lie, ask yourself if there is any way it could be shown that your statement was false.

11.  When you suspect that you have been lied to by anyone other than your wife or best friend, avoid confronting that person with the lie.  Attempt to let the person know through your non-verbal behavior (your look of suspiciousness) that you know they are lying.

12.  Don’t expect or demand that everyone be truthful with you.  Assume that any statement could be a lie or a half truth.  Trust your intuitive sense that some statement is a lie.

13.  Assume that any statement that implies a person is doing something for you (without some expected return) is a lie.

14.  When you’ve been told something that you suspect is a lie, avoid unnecessarily repeating it or giving it free circulation.  You are as much a liar for having knowingly repeated a lie as if you constructed it yourself.

15.  Never assume that because a person has been honest in one matter that he will be honest in all other matters.  Keep in mind there are few liars, but many situations that call for a lie