One of the ideas that I toyed with when I began looking into looking into persuasion was the idea of false hope, which led me to the question: Do we like being lied to?
This week I explore the question and explain why big or small, I’m never lying, stretching the truth or withholding information on purpose again (with one exception).
We all lie, and we lie for different reasons.
We’ve all been there, it’s been a busy week and you’ve told yourself you’ll go to the gym, knowing full well what will probably happen: you’ll end up at home doing some lie-downs on your bed and some mouth-ups on the phone. Some lies I’ve told haven’t been as harmless as this. I’m sure some of the lies you’ve told haven’t been either and that’s ok because we’re human and we make mistakes. Through my research this week, however, I’ve realised that that’s what a lie is- a mistake.
I’m sitting here as someone who is highly ambitious. I want to get to a place of influence, whatever that means. I want to do it because I’m not impressed with many of our current leaders and I want to help create a better and more connected society. This week I’ve realised I can’t lead in the way I want to while being a liar in any sense of the word.
Capitalism rewards narcissistic traits, which is probably why we live in an age of unprecedented public dishonesty. If you ever want to read more about this, 7 Rules of Power is a great place to start (just don’t take the book as gospel like I did when I first read it) because even if lies help you get power, avoid embarrassment or influence people in our society, lies have a cost.
Who is affected when you lie?
There are three people affected by a lie -the person you’re lying to, the person your lie is affecting and you. Think about how it feels when you find out someone you love has lied to you. Personally, I feel like they don’t respect me and that they don’t think that I am emotionally strong.
It makes me fear that no one will ever think I’m worth telling the truth to if the people closest to me don’t either. It may sound dramatic, and it definitely will when you find out the example I’m thinking about is when I found out Santa wasn’t real. On a larger scale, lies I’ve been told, or truths that have been withheld, have left me walking through the world knowing there aren’t many people I don’t like- but there are a lot of people I don’t trust.
In a Refinery 21 article, Linda Blair stated "It’s scary to realise that somebody has not been prioritising your needs at least as much as their own, it is scary at the most basic level. We feel it in our amygdala (the part of the brain which is associated with emotional processes). In an emotional sense, being lied to makes us feel threatened, unsafe and upset." That is to say, lying to someone will undermine their reality and confuse their memories which can make them feel angry and will definitely make them trust you less.
Why tell the truth?
When people lie, they most frequently experience emotions of shame, guilt, and (surprisingly) delight. Which is to say while a lot of people don’t like lying, a lot of other people do, and those who do have it easier than ever because lying has been normailsed and made easier than ever because of techonology. On Tik Tok people even give advice on how to lie, like telling people they should lie abour getting into a car crash instead of saying they don’t want to talk to them (see below).
There’s an argument to be made here for false hope, lies for the 'common good', white lies to spare feelings and lies for self-defence (like saying your dad is home when a stranger knocks on the door). In the spirit of honesty, I would still do the last one if I felt in danger, but giving false hope or telling white lies isn’t as harmless as you may think, especially if you personally have something to gain.
As people, we’re biased to do what feels easy in the short term, but I’m here to tell you little lies make life harder. False hope and white lies create informational asymmetry between you and the person you’re lying to and push off problem-solving that could be accomplished. Furthermore, lying puts stress on the body and it’s been shown that those who lie more may die sooner.
Three takeaways: Tell the truth, tell the truth even when there’s money on the line and remember to respect yourself.
We all know the relief from telling the truth. If you tell the truth, Linda Blair explains there’s an immediate sense of closure and relief. So when persuading someone, tell the truth. Tell the truth even if it’s uncomfortable. There is nothing more attractive than being authentic to who you are and what you can actually deliver.
There might be some short term benefits to stretching the truth for the greater good, but thinking critically, if you need to lie for what you are doing, how good can it really be? For example, if you have to lie to someone to get them to buy from you- they’re not the right person for what you’re selling. Prioritise a good reputation over a good paycheck for longevity and peace.
Little lies and big lies have a knock on effect, so try to tell the truth, especially to yourself.
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