I have always suspected that I might be a little bit naive when it comes to assessing all the deceit going on out there in the world. I was aware, of course, that there were some people who lie on a regular basis. But in my mind, those people were the exception.
So, The Liar in Your Life pretty much shook my belief system to its very core – and that’s exactly the reason why I loved this book and why I would recommend anyone to read it.
The myth of the “little white lies”
Right from the start Robert Feldman makes it pretty clear that “dishonesty is deeply ingrained in our everyday interactions and in our broader culture”. Lying is not the exception, it is the rule. And even worse: a rule that our society is built on. Think about advertising, elections, education or just daily social necessities. In fact, lies are so frequent that we don’t even consider them to be deception anymore.
It is common belief that some lies don’t hurt anyone. They are not intended to manipulate someone into doing something. But, as Feldman explains, the myth of the “good kind” of lie is a fairy tale: “If a lie succeeds, someone is always fooled. And, crucially, even if the target of the lie doesn’t know this, the liar does.”
Why do we lie?
“The issue we need to confront is not whether people lie to us—they do—but how much and why. Just as importantly, we need to consider why we’re so prone to believing and even embracing the deception we hear from others, as well as the lies we tell ourselves.”
Feldman’s findings reveal that people do not only lie out of greed, evasion of punishment, or some degree of insanity, but also when they want to come off as likable or as competent. The reason why people lie lies in the fact that many people shy away from conflict and disagreement. Therefore, they “mirror” the opinions of others, even if they don’t necessarily share them at all or only to a certain extent.
Another important finding is that we do not necessarily lie in order to manipulate another person (although that is, of course, what happens); we do it to manipulate ourselves. By lying we foster our own persona, or the persona we would ideally want to be. By getting others to believe our sense of self, we start believing it too. We rely on the image others have of us, so we make sure this image is a good one.
The liar’s advantage
Lying is easy, spotting a lie isn’t. We all are lied to on a regular basis without noticing it. If you think you can spot a liar by looking for telltale signs like the averted gaze, think again. The common belief that little eye contact indicates lying is just another one of those myths surrounding lying. In addition, our natural default setting is to assume that we aren’t being lied to. Mistrust takes up a lot of mental capacity we are, under normal circumstances, not willing to invest in the detection of lies. “We simply don’t have the cognitive capacity to consciously consider every aspect of what we encounter.”, Feldman says.
But the biggest part of the lie is that people want to believe it. We don’t notice lies because we don’t want to notice them. Most people want to think of themselves as “immune to lies”, their self-perception includes the fact that they can detect lies easily. It’s quite obvious why we are thinking that way: Nobody wants to feel like a fool. That’s why it’s easier for us to believe the lie as long as we can, instead of accepting how easy it was for another person to manipulate us. In short, we can swallow the pretty lie far easier than the ugly truth. And one of these pretty lies is to think that we have supreme lie detection skills. We are “willing accomplices” in the lies we are led to believe.
Being honest about being honest
Feldman explains that a key element of dealing with lies is understanding that a great deal of deception is well-intentioned: “No, lying is not very nice. But the truth is not necessarily very nice, either.” Still, lying is not harmless, and its impossible to anticipate the consequences a lie can have. In the end, it’s about finding a balance between honesty and deception. If we start to be more aware of the way lies work and the way our society depends on them, we could start building more truthful relationships. “Honesty may not be a perfect, universally applicable policy – but it is still the best policy.”, Feldman concludes.
If you want to find out more about lying check out the TED playlist “The truth about lying” or start by watching this TED Talk.
The best Viennese Coffee House to read this book in
After all of this bad news about people you can’t really trust, I thought I owe it to you to find the one coffee place in Vienna you can definitely trust. Barista Habib Ghulam opened his coffee place Café Latte Art in 2014. “I had the first coffee of my life in Vienna.”, he says. That was 10 years ago. Habib doesn’t only offer deliciously brewed and lovingly prepared coffee, but also the best advice a real coffee nerd could possibly desire. “Vienna has a wonderful Coffee House Culture, but unfortunately it doesn’t have a Coffee Culture.”, he says. But Habib is determined to change that. That’s why he offers Barista Workshops with special conditions for students (75 Euros, to be exact). So, don’t miss out on one of the best coffee experiences in town.
Photo credits: All images by Verena Ehrnberger