Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

The Truth about Lying


Ok, I’ve been on vacation and since I’ve been back I’ve been really busy, so here’s a little something I wrote a couple of years ago.   Yes, I write stuff like this to amuse myself.  Yes, I know it’s weird.  Here you go:

I recently watched a TED video with a woman named Pamela Meyer, who is an expert at detecting when people are lying.  She started out by explaining how we are all willing participants in most of the lies that are told to us; we know we’re being lied to, and, for various reasons, we collude with the liar to accept the lie.  Most of the lies we tell are simple:  “I’m great!” when we’re not; “It’s nice to meet you” when we couldn’t care less – all that stuff.  Apparently, we lie to our spouses much more than we lie to strangers.  And we all know it, and we do it anyway, because it’s easier, or more polite, or avoids conflict.  Or maybe we’re just lazy – to break the cycle of accepting all the lies told to us, we would have to interrogate the liars – “Are you really great, or did you just say that?”  “Is it really no problem, or have you decided to just do it so I’ll go away?”  Questions like that are, in our current culture, deemed rude or nosy, and nobody likes rude, nosy people.  Apparently we prefer people to lie to our faces.  All the time.

Later in the talk Ms. Meyer starts explaining about the science behind lie detection.  It’s all about involuntary facial tics and body language that can, if observed with the correct frequency or in “clusters”, tell the trained eye that a person is being untruthful.  She showed a couple of videos of people who were both telling the truth and telling lies, and pointed out the “tells” in the liars.  It’s really fascinating and fun, and if you’re like me, makes you wonder if you would be able to fool an expert if you tried.  You start fantasizing about how you wouldn’t smile in that way or cover your mouth like that, or any number of things that would let someone know you weren’t telling the truth.  Of course, most of the lies being told by the people in the video were heinous – one woman had killed her children and told people a stranger had done it – so for the vast majority of us, we (hopefully) would never want or need to know how to tell a lie of that magnitude.  But it makes you wonder.

After I watched the video, I started wondering about something else.  What struck me was how involuntary these physical reactions were; no matter how smooth you are, something will always give you away.  Apparently, our bodies don’t want us to lie.   Our unconscious selves rebel when we are untruthful.  You’ll notice there are no physical “tells” for someone who is telling the truth – except in the case of a fake smile vs. a genuine one.   The physical and psychological imperative to tell the truth is the controlling one, more powerful than our cultural impulse to lie.  Lying, then, is an unnatural act that results in the betrayal of our minds by our bodies.  Isn’t that interesting?

To be caught in a lie is, to the average person, a terrible thing.  We vilify the liars in our midst, demonizing them as unworthy of anyone’s trust, ever again.  It is the unforgivable sin, even worse than the act being lied about most of the time.  And yet we love to be lied to.  Do you really believe everything your favorite politician says is the truth?  Do you really believe if you purchase that product you will be happier and more fulfilled than you are now?

We want to believe the lies, so we invest a tremendous amount of effort into convincing ourselves, and each other, that lies are the truth, and in some cases, the truth is a lie.  We build walls of lies around the things we desperately want to be true, blinding ourselves to any other possibilities.  We don’t ask the questions.  We don’t want to know the answers.  The answers might not be comfortable, so all we do is listen to the people who tell us what we want to hear.   Everyone does it.  We all want to surround ourselves with people who think like we do, who see the world the same way we do – it’s human nature.  But the price of that is often the closing of our minds and the hardening of our hearts.

One of the reasons why we hate the liars that get caught in a lie is that in spite of our deep cultural compulsion to deceive, we all know in our hearts that lying is a bad thing – a knowledge that manifests itself in our bodies’ desire to give us away when we lie.  We raise up people who profess to tell the “unvarnished truth”.  We value “frank, honest” conversations.  We celebrate people who expose their vulnerabilities to the world as having the “courage to tell the truth”.  There is an extreme amount of tension between these two opposing forces.  How do we resolve our compulsion to lie with our desire to know the truth?

As far as I can tell, there are only two ways to find out if someone is lying to your face:  you can either become an expert at lie detection like Pamela Meyer, or you can start asking questions and not stop until you are convinced you’ve gotten the whole story.  But be warned – you might not like what you find.  I think that we, individually and collectively, need to search our hearts for the truth about the truth – do we really want it?  What are we willing to give up to have it?  Would we even recognize it if we saw it?  Do we have that kind of courage, or is that why, when we see someone else telling the truth, we treat it like it’s extraordinary?  Is it really so rare?  Do we even know how to be honest with ourselves and each other, or have we forgotten? 


Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: dullhunk via photopin cc

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