July 18, 2015


What about honesty and lies? While there is high value placed on honesty, a realistic look at human behavior reveals that deception is normal and story telling always involves dishonesty. Children learn quickly that there are advantages to lying. They are aware that adults lie routinely. Creative children are creative story tellers who are entertained by fictional stories and employ fiction-writing techniques in reporting events to parents and other adults. As children acquire more language skills and are held more accountable for their actions, they become increasingly skillful in their story inventions.

Each human projects the image of the honest one and denies taking part in any deception whatsoever. The root lie is “I am an honest man or woman”. This fundamental self-deception is practiced by all and usually believed by all. Even a when a liar is caught fabricating his or her story, he or she will usually persist in the claim “I am telling the truth”. The idea is that individuals in all groups compete for position and prestige; the drive is to at least maintain your social position or improve it if you can. The risk of losing your social position is so threatening that all means of protecting yourself arise spontaneously. Since humans use language as an important social tool, any use of language that protects or enhances social position is acceptable. A close examination of human behavior gives us the following precepts: 1. There is no absolute truth. 2. Memories are not accurate and factual. 3. Story telling is a small part fact and large part fiction. Stories always promote self-interest. 4. "No" and 'don't" are the two most important instructions for humans, young and old 5. Human problems can by solved by not repeating harmful behaviors. 6. Humans have a strong tendency to repeat harmful behaviors.

We admire people who deceive us professionally – magicians, movie directors, actors, psychics, faith healers, politicians, ministers and priests. We tell our children blatant lies about tooth fairies, Easter bunnies, Santa Claus, angels, heaven and yes, even God. The benevolent deception is designed in part to entertain, reassure and alleviate suffering. “Little white lies” involve omitting unpleasant information and changing small details that the story will be more acceptable: “… it will only hurt a little bit, dear.” Telling "little white lies" is not considered a moral crisis. Story telling merges with other forms of persuasion and negotiation in strategies of business and social success. Humans tell stories and make deals, all out of self-interest. The stories and deals are always tilted in someone's favor.

If you censored television ads and scripts to rule out displays of lying and systematic deception, the entertainment industry would all but disappear. If you believe you have benevolent motives, you will also believe that deception is a valid strategy when you negotiate with someone else, because you have to overcome their resistance, their prejudices and their ignorance to achieve a result that you desire. If you believe that the right deception will achieve the best outcome, you will lie with more confidence and soon believe your lies. The end justifies the means. Despite obvious ethical flaws in the ends justify means argument; human conduct is almost always based on this implicit assumption. Network television sitcoms depend on plots involving deception, lying and the consequences of being found out. The series, "Seinfeld" was popular, featuring characters who were inveterate liars. Seinfeld plots depended on the characters' inadequacies; their inability to form meaningful relationships or to cope well with the simplest of life problems. The main coping strategies were manipulation and deception. Laws are meant to be circumvented. The issues were petty and trivial and the characters’ dependence on deception both entertained and reflected life as the audience lived it.

From the book Children and Family by Stephen Gislason MD

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