The Lies We Tell

I am a liar.

This sounds horrible, I know, but I am a human and humans lie. We all do it. We lie to others; we lie to ourselves. In fact, I bet that you, dear reader, have told a number of lies on the very day that you’re reading this entry.

I’m told that there was once a reporter who decided to spend 30 days without telling any lies at all. No big lies; no little lies. No white lies; no whoppers. The trouble was, he elected to do this knowing a friend of his was lying to his girlfriend. So, when she asked, he told. Naturally, he lost his friend.

Now I’m not going to get into a whole thing about whether he should have included lies that belonged to other people. That’s something he has to think about for the rest of his life. But, it’s an interesting thought experiment. Could I go 30 days without telling any lies at all? Should I?

It’s a complicated question. And so, to figure out whether this is something I could or should do, I decided to take a look at how and why we lie.

People lie for a number of reasons. Sometimes, telling lies the polite thing to do. It’s a social convention, and one that as long as it doesn’t hit some arbitrary marker of what is and isn’t appropriate, its fine. Its almost expected of us in many situations.

“Do you like my hat?  I bought it specifically for X ritual!”

“I do!  It’s really neat.”

Sometimes, we lie because were frustrated. We simply can’t deal with something anymore and so we tell a lie in order to make it stop. This happens a lot in pagan communities: how many times have you heard someone go on about something that makes absolutely no sense, and so you say, “Oh yeah, I understand,” as a way to get them to shut up? I’ll bet it’s happened more than once.

“Did you know that aliens built the pyramids and we need to wait for them to return with wisdom for us?”

“I didn’t know that!  Fascinating!”

Sometimes, we lie to protect ourselves. You would think that this means protect ourselves from others, but it’s amazing how many people are walking around trying to protect themselves from, well, themselves. And yes, self-delusion falls into this category.  What do I mean by self delusion? Well, I mean the things we tell ourselves to feel better. I mean the things that we say to ourselves to avoid bigger issues. For example, I might tell myself that I am the perfect example of someone who upholds ma’at and remembers to put my shopping carts away…because I don’t want to deal with the fact that I had that little incident with the van in the parking space a couple weeks ago.

“How do you uphold ma’at?”

“Well, I always remember to look ahead to the potential consequences of my actions.”

(See the lies there?)

When I look at the lies I tell, I figure that as long as they don’t impede on someone’s consent or ability to act of their own free will, there’s no harm involved.  Once the things I say start taking away someone’s choices, then I’ve crossed the line.  Then again, isn’t that point-of-view expected from someone like me?  Really, I keep coming back to the fact that, as individuals, we need to decide for ourselves when lying is acceptable and when it isn’t.  Where your line is may be different from mine…in fact, I am almost certain it is.

So, how do you decide where the lying line is?


4 responses to “The Lies We Tell

  1. I suppose I decide on a case by case basis: will it make the situation better or worse. Then there’s the lies to ourselves which it can go either way: ethically I don’t know that lying to yourself is a probl but it can cause some problems when those lies become ingrained and you begin to lie to other people about who you are.

    • Crowdsourcing question:
      At what point does lying about who you are become a problem… other than the obvious “identity theft” or claiming skills you don’t have? Should I always present myself as I am?

      • I suppose when it comes into the misrepresenting ourselves. At least, in my opinion. I mean, we shouldn’t claim we have skills we don’t – and this is even more questionable when you’re trying to charge money for those skills. For example, if you think you can sing, but I may disagree, it’s whatever: but you know, if you are charing people for some kind of magical service you have no idea how to perform or any track record of being successful I think you need to tell them that.
        Then there are the small lies we tell ourselves that were true at one point but aren’t anymore, and we have to accept that. Like you know, in my head I see myself much thinner than I currently am. So you know, I am basically lying to myself about that – which is or isn’t a problem but since no one is even asking what I look like… it doesn’t matter. Still though, I think that’s kind of a problem. Not an ethical one of course, just a personal problem. 🙂

  2. How do I decide the line? Since I am a fairly blunt person and in my opinion people need to be less whiny about things in general (I.e. if some one doesn’t like you, deal with it civilly and grow up instead of causing drama) I tend to tell strangers every thing straight up. The exception to this is work- I lie to people at work ALOT. Mostly because the company says we aren’t supposed to share certain things with the clients and when they ask I have to tell them something. I guess the line is how much drama I am willing to put up with from any given person at the time when it comes to friends, certain times I will be more soothing than others. But I try to be as truthful as I can because I feel we need to hear the hard stuff, even if we choose to ignore it.

    Lying about myself? Well, again, work. My life is none of the client’s or boss’s business beyond my qualifications if it’s not going to affect my job. I will lie if I’m trying to intimidate someone. Or about what I’m doing if it will just upset who I’m talking to and they aren’t involved in the activity. Like if a friend has to work while depressed and asks my plans- may tell them I’m just lazing around rather than about the meet up at the club.

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