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The truth about lying

6 Comments

We lie. We cheat. We bend the rules. We break the rules. And sometimes, as we’ve seen in Greece, it all adds up. But, remarkably, this doesn’t stop us from thinking we’re wonderful, honest people. We’ve become very good at justifying our dishonest behaviors so that, at the end of the day, we feel good about who we are. This tendency is only getting worse, and, as innocent as it may seem, the consequences are becoming more apparent and more serious.

Cheating has little to do with personal gain and everything to do with self-perception. We need to believe that we’re good people, and we’ll do just about anything to maintain that perception. Sometimes, this means behaving in ways that align with our sense of what is right. Other times, it means crossing that line, but turning a blind eye to our behavior, or rationalizing it in some way that allows us to believe it’s OK.

Let’s say your friend asks you how they look, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings, so you lie. You fudge it. You don’t necessarily say, “Wow! You’ve never looked better,” but you certainly don’t tell them the full truth. And you have no problem rationalizing your fib: It’s the right thing to do, because it will make your friend feel better. Perhaps you didn’t look at them as closely as you could have, or were standing further away. These sorts of details would make it easier to justify your lie, and help you sleep at night without giving this a second thought.

The same kind of self-deception applies to wider-scale cheating, although the motivations are usually different. In more professional scenarios, our dishonesty is typically fueled by the desire for wealth or status, rather than concern for the reputation of others. Greed is a powerful motivator.

About a month ago, American businessman Garrett Bauer was sentenced to nine years in prison for insider trading. It was a terrible moment for me. Garrett was one of the people I had spoken to in researching the nature of dishonesty, and to see the consequences of his actions catch up to him that way was a brutal reminder of just how out of hand cheating can get. Garrett traded stocks on insider information for about 17 years. He started off small, as people tend to do, and never considered that he might get caught. As time went by, it got easier and easier for him to cheat the system free of guilt. But then he got caught, and now it’s too late to correct his mistakes.

That night, after his sentencing, I couldn’t sleep. I curled into the fetal position – the world looked terrible to me. I had spent the day before in New York giving talk after talk about cheating and dishonesty, how widespread they are, and how little appetite we have to start changing things. With all that cheating weighing on my mind, Garrett’s sentence was an additional terrible blow. It was overwhelmingly sad, and a very painful night.

The consequences of this sort of cheating are even more severe when the network of contagion is larger. We see this when we look at Greece, where masses of people have been cheating a little bit everywhere, and it’s all added up. What this shows is just how contagious dishonesty can be. When we see somebody else cheat, especially if they’re part of our own, internal group, all of a sudden we figure out that it’s more acceptable to act this way. It’s not that the probability of our getting caught has changed – it’s that we’ve changed our mindset, convincing ourselves that the act itself is actually OK. At some point, you just think, “This is the way things are done,” and you go with the flow.

One woman from Greece recently told me that she was selling her apartment and she was considering whether to sell it legally (and pay taxes) or illegally (without paying taxes). She quickly realized that she had bought it illegally, and that she would lose money if she turned around and sold it legally – not to mention that, in her mind, she would be the only person in Greece paying taxes on real-estate property.

When everyone around you is cheating the system, what’s your motivation to be the one not playing along? And why now? Why not make changes next month, or next year, instead?

This mentality is accentuated in Greece because it’s not just the everyday citizen that’s been cheating – the government has been fudging the books. When cheating is that entrenched in a country, what can you do to stop it? It’s incredibly naïve to think that this wave will stop on its own. What Greece needs is something like the Reconciliation Act that South Africa adopted, focusing not on the travesties it has done to its people, but on starting fresh.

Every day, people are finding new and more creative ways to cheat, and to justify their dishonest behavior, regardless of the negative impact their actions might have on others. What’s most worrying about this trend is that we still fail to grasp the extent of our dishonesty. But it doesn’t have to be like this. If, on a global scale, we worked to understand the root of our dishonesty, and motivated each other to overcome it, we could do much better.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

6 Comments
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Distinguished Professor. Humanity is now in the final phase of monogamous patriarchy. Values ​​created by men for thousands of years have been exhausted. Already one realizes that the male game of war is too expensive. What's better not to explore the wilderness of Mars, and the money to plant trees in the Sahara and Gobbi. False scholars who work on the collider for the billions of dollars at a time when millions of children die from diseases and nischity is very cynical. Laws are not an instrument of truth, but an instrument of lies. And yet the priests of a new religion called Science does not ponder who they are and what they do - humanity will continue on the path of suicide.

For 20 years, as science can predict the place, time and epicenter of the earthquake. Why did she do nedelaet? http://earthquakes-prediction.blogspot.com/ Why do people die? - Because scientists are driven by money, not the conscience and honor.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I think the problem is not lying. The problem is selfishness. Modern human beings have raised self interest above all else. What "I" want is so important that it rumps all other considerations enabling people to do do all sorts of terrible things that go way beyond lying and cheating.

The Corporate Executive who rationalizes massive staff cuts while retaining high paying bonuses and wasteful spending. This individual does not weigh the consequences to society that laying off so many people has. Nor does he weigh the potential social benefits for his company had he elected to sacrifice his own well being for the workers and cut bonuses and other costs to retain jobs.

It is rationalized as beneficial to the stock holders, when in fact the long term repercussions to society are not good for anyone.

The Political Leader who allows the interests of his financial backers to overcome his better judgement for the welfare of the public. Undermining the validity of representative government in favor of his own career.

The Young Man on the train who refuses to stand to allow an elderly person to sit. That older individual may suffer hours of pain from not having been able to rest for those few momements. The young man fails to respect elders, fails to support a moral society and rationalizes it as not his problem.

We are a world of self centered wired in people who care more about our own desires than the negative consequences they generate. It isn't just cheating and lying. It is the wholesale desctruction of civilized society. What is needed are people who are willing to put self last and to devote life to the service of others. Prioritize our decisions in favor of caring about other people, of society and of the world around us. Anything less will perpetuate the current slide into selfish oblivion.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Wow, what a wonderful way to make people feel badly about themselves.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What on Earth is this article about?

This is a professor of psych?

Gawdelpus!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The trouble with the civilized world is the way it is set up. The most dishonest thing is the monetary system set up by the bankers, used by business tycoons to influence politicians to make business favored laws. There can never be honesty in a society which believes that gold is the most precious item, even though you can buy it with paper. The only truly honest laws are nature's laws. We cannot exist on this earth except by things of real value....air, water, food, yet we are taught to believe that wealth and power are the most important things. To establish honesty, we would have to implement Draco's system of justice.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A real pleasurable read, thanks for that. To mash up a quote from the opera adaptation of Voltaire's Candide: "It's such a shame to live in this dishonest world, all I can do is pass it on."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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