Why do we lie?

Why do we lie?

Neuroscientist Sam Harris reckons nobody should ever lie. Ever. Do you agree?

His arguments are laid out in Lying, but before you rush off to read that, what do you think? Here are three points to chew over while you consider your truthy new life. Not that I’m calling you a liar. Ahhh, this is awkward.

No one really knows a liar

If you lie about things like the career you want, who you want to sleep with, your true passions and other important parts of your identity, the people you lie to don’t really know who you are. If nobody knows your real needs and desires, it’s impossible to have a meaningful connection that both of you enjoy.

As Harris says, “To lie is to recoil relationship.” For example, if you cancel seeing a friend because you were too depressed to go out but you said it was because you had to work, your friend doesn’t have the opportunity to know something important about you, and also is denied the chance to give you support that you really need. Or if you’re afraid to tell people things because you know they’ll react badly, do you really want these people in your life?

If you couldn’t lie anymore and had to front up, you might find that your good relationships become much closer, and your unhelpful ones just melt away.

Keeping track of your lies is exhausting

A friend of mine once had an affair. She thought it would be brief but it dragged on for months, and her guilt and paranoia grew. She couldn’t leave her phone in the room with her boyfriend in case the other guy texted her, she kept looking over her shoulder every time she walked to his house and she double-checked everything she ever said in case she accidentally gave something away.

As Harris says, “Lying can require an extraordinary amount of work, all of which comes at the expense of authentic communication and free attention.” The stress was so intense that she ended her affair and even though her boyfriend never found out, the guilt ate at her until she ended up breaking up with him, too. If she really couldn’t resist the affair and still wanted to stay with her boyfriend, she could have owned up and asked for an open relationship.

It might not have worked, but she could have gained a lot more than she ended up losing.

White lies help no one

Imagine you had a friend who was overweight. Her greatest desire was to get a boyfriend, and you felt that her size was putting guys off. If she asks you, “Do I look fat in this dress?” and you say, “No, you look wonderful!” you’re denying her support that could actually help her.

As Harris says, “A white lie is a refusal to offer honest guidance in a storm.” Instead of lying, you could say, “Are you feeling uncomfortable about your weight?” and open up a conversation about why she’s eating too much, why she’s not exercising and maybe even offer to go on a weekly run with her to show your support. It also might be a chance to get things off her chest and face reality, which could be the most valuable help of all.


Intent is good, impact is better

Intent is good, impact is better

It’s like bacon and eggs – the chicken is contributing, but the pig has all the impact.