The Art of Lying

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October 10, 2019 by thewashingteenian

By Jay Trovato, Young Adult Librarian

As young children, we are taught to tell the truth instead of lying. Not too far into our childhood, however, we realize that although the adults around us demand that we tell the truth, they do not always do so themselves. When a matter arises in which it would cost them something to be truthful, children sometimes – or even often – watch adults lie. Sometimes the cost of being truthful is monetary, such as when parents claim that a 13-year-old child is 12 years old in order to get a discount at a restaurant or a play. Other times, the cost of being truthful is social. If a man in church is asked if he uses pornography, being truthful by saying “yes” may carry unpleasant consequences for him, so he may lie and say “no.” What children learn is that even though lying may be wrong, it can sometimes be useful. As children become teenagers and then adults, they get plenty of practice with the art of lying.

Lies have many forms, although they might not be recognized as such right away. One is called “denial,” which means consciously or unconsciously holding an inaccurate view of something.  In the case of the churchman who uses pornography, he is in denial if he says to himself, “I’m not the kind of man who uses pornography.” He is unwilling to admit the truth to himself, trying to prop up a self-image of being morally better than he really is. Another form of lying is called “rationalization.” It means that a person makes up reasons for doing something wrong, even if these are not logical, appropriate, or relevant. Let’s bring back the example of parents who lie to the ticket clerk at the play about their child’s age. They say to themselves, “We need to save money wherever we can,” which is an attempt to take away the sting of conscience for not telling the truth. “Blame shifting” is another way to prevent the truth from hitting its mark.  In blame shifting, a person avoids taking responsibility for a wrong action and instead casts that responsibility onto someone else.  Imagine that a teenage girl is arguing with her father.  The father says, “You shouldn’t be arguing with me – I’m your father and you need to respect me!”  The girl can reply, “Well, you started it!”

This discussion between the father and daughter is now at a crossroads.  The conversation can spiral down from here into denial, rationalization, and more blame shifting if neither side is willing to give up. The problem is that each word that is spoken (or shouted) is hurting their relationship, like dropping a bowling ball over and over onto a package of ground beef – at the end, there will just be a bloody, slimy mess all over the place.

There is only one escape from the trap of lying: telling the truth. But telling the truth makes a person vulnerable. It means a person will have to step out of the distorted narrative that painted him in a favorable light and be seen for what he really is. If the voluntary vulnerability that comes from truth-telling is met with compassion, forgiveness, and goodwill, the situation will improve and the tension will lessen and dissipate. As the pattern of truth-telling continues, the relationship in question will stabilize and strengthen over time.

Even if it can be useful in the short term, lying in any form leads to weakness and picks apart the fabric of trust underlying all levels of human relationships. Truth-telling may be risky and costly, but it is the only sure path to harmony between people and peace within a person’s own conscience.

If we know that truth-telling is ultimately the best way, we need to become more attuned to all the different ways of lying human beings have invented. The diversity and creativity of human deception at times is truly astonishing – a mystery in which every one of us is involved to some degree. Lying may be the easy solution in the short term, but only the truth will set us free.

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