The lie on the test bench: Why we lie en masse – Radar
Have you ever covered up a mistake or concealed the truth? Good news: This is completely normal. In fact, most people are on the assembly line against their environment and for themselves. Why exactly? The American author Judi Ketteler sought an honest answer to this question.
Lies are wrong. You learn this as a child and it repeats often enough in the course of your life that you never forget it. Still, most adults are trained liars. We apologize for coming too late, lying about our qualifications on our CV, or obfuscating a misstep for our partner. About 20 to 30 percent of the time we spend with others is telling lies. Remarkably, we expect our others to be honest anytime, anywhere. That’s, um, not fair?
Lies are wrong. You learn this as a child and it repeats often enough in the course of your life that you never forget it. Still, most adults are trained liars. We apologize for coming too late, lying about our qualifications on our CV, or obfuscating a misstep for our partner. About 20 to 30 percent of the time we spend with others is telling lies. Remarkably, we expect our others to be honest anytime, anywhere. That’s, um, not fair? “We are always stricter than for ourselves,” explains author Judi Ketteler. In her latest book, Never Lie Again, she explores why people spin the truth. “We’re just sweeping our own lies under the mat. We are masters at rationalizing our own actions. When we catch someone else on untruths, we do not feel the urge to justify this lie. Our judgment is then unstoppable.” According to Ketteler, this unather is associated with a strong desire to preserve our self-image as honest, righteous people. “We subconsciously tell a lot of lies. Think, for example, of exaggerations or lies forever. We blur them with so much carelessness that we don’t even remember them afterwards, let alone that they affect our self-image. When someone else falls through the basket in a similar factory, we conveniently forget that we ourselves constantly excuse such nonsense.” “That’s why we don’t want to associate ourselves with other liars. In Ohio, the high-ranking health department official was recently caught with fraud. He embezzled 16 million U.S. dollars and was jailed for this reason. We regard these figures as clever scammers, and they are very far from us in our minds. Inventing a flat tire because you arrive late for work is much less invasive than embezzleing a hefty sum of money. We also tend to divide humanity into two groups: honest and dishonest people. This is very black and white when reality is a continuum,” ketteler says. To find out why people lie, Ketteler read numerous studies and interviewed dozens of experts. She also took a closer look at her own honesty. For a month, she recorded each lie in a diary. A confrontational experiment. “One of the first things I learned was that I lied much more often than I expected. (laughs) Inattention was an important reason, as was the fear of hurting someone or putting them in a difficult position. Other lies arose from pure selfishness. For example, I tend to give myself a shiny role when I tell stories in groups.” By writing everything down, Ketteler became aware of her own lies and the motives behind them. So she found out that she regularly lies to herself. The reason? Maintaining, yes, this famous self-image. “The self-made man is worn on hands in the USA. Success here is based on your talent and commitment, not on chance or luck. That’s what most people say because it’s more enjoyable. In reality, of course, happiness plays as big a role as talent. I myself have long been convinced that I am an exceptionally good listener. Professionally, I am, so why should it be different privately? Well… Apparently, I’d rather follow my own assumptions than really listen to my partner. This kind of discovery is unpleasant because it is against the positive image you have of yourself. When you become aware of these ways of thinking, you get a realistic view of yourself.” Children’s lies ‘Mom, did you kill the cat?’. Cold-handed “yes” answers in such a case is not the most obvious answer. Many parents tend to present a gentle version of the truth to their children. “Our cat has fallen asleep gently,” seems more fitting. But is it? “Children can handle much more than we think. I found out so quickly when I decided to be more honest with them. When my daughter asked me if I had killed the cat, I honestly told her that the vet would put her to sleep. Halfway through my explanation, I lost interest. When I’m asked about sex, I take the same approach. We assume that we should avoid such issues until they are finished, but our children are all on the Internet. Chances are they already know a lot more than we think. If you don’t mention it, create taboos. It’s also absurd to tell children that they should always be honest, even if they know that they are lying regularly.” Honesty is not obvious not only in the family context, but also at work. Your friends may be willing to accept you as you are, including mistakes, at work the cards are different. There we prefer a proper variant of ourselves, which is always balanced and competent. Telling your boss that you are refusing to work with Mr X because he slept with your ex is not appropriate. To say bluntly to a colleague that the PowerPoint presentation she gives in five minutes is nothing like nothing, and you are not thanked. “Most of the lies we tell in the workplace have – once again – to do with the identity we want to protect. Let’s say you’re a successful scientist and that’s how you see yourself. But then one paper after another is rejected. If someone asks you how your research is going, it’s tempting not to talk about these rejected papers. It is fair to say that you are working on a number of things, but that there are no concrete publications in sight for the time being.” Focusing on positive things that are right is more pleasant and authentic than distorting or obfuscating the truth. It also helps to look at yourself with some nuances. You may be a successful scientist, but you are also a good father and a loyal friend. When things go wrong on one level, there are those other domains to preserve your self-image. In such a case, you will automatically come out of the corner more honestly. But not all lies are necessarily bad, Ketteler points out. In some cases speak silver, but still gold. “Before you tell someone a very hard truth, it can be helpful to ask yourself if it is your role to inform that person. In addition to honesty, there are other values that can play a role. Sometimes I believe that as a society we wrongly use honesty as the number one value. It is just as important for a relationship to trust and see each other.” In other words, don’t hurry up to your best friend when you hear that she’s being cheated by her lover. Take your time to assess the whole situation. Is it really up to you to inform them? And if so, how does it benefit from your honesty? This kind of question makes you a better friend and therefore a better person.