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Is Lying Ever Justified?


Is it ok to lie in certain circumstances – what if you’re an undercover policeman or your kid asks if Santa Clause is real?  

The famous scientist, Sam Harris, tries to answer that question in today’s Book-of-the-Day, “Lying.”

Harris starts by saying, “We often behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy. Many of us spend our lives marching with open eyes toward remorse, regret, guilt, and disappointment. And nowhere do our injuries seem more casually self-inflicted, or the suffering we create more disproportionate to the needs of the moment, than in the lies we tell to other human beings. Lying is the royal road to chaos.”

White lies. 

Subtle lies.

Lies that save lives.

Hurtful lies.

This book basically makes the point that in the long run it almost always pays to tell the truth. 

Here are some of my takeaways:

1.  Lying is everywhere and it causes lower life satisfaction levels: “One study suggests that 10 percent of communication between spouses is deceptive… Research suggests that all forms of lying—including white lies meant to spare the feelings of others—are associated with less satisfying relationships.”

2. Most white lies just perpetuate delusion but brutal honesty breaks delusion: “A friend of mine recently asked me whether I thought he was overweight. He probably was just asking for reassurance. I answered my friend’s question very directly: ‘No one would ever call you ‘fat,’ but if I were you, I’d want to lose twenty-five pounds.’ That was two months ago, and he is now fifteen pounds lighter.”

3. Our biggest lies are usually to ourselves: “Self-deception isn’t of any value either. I was never going to be a professional singer. People could have said, ‘Oh, you’re a great singer. You ought to quit your job and start recording.’ But that’s just bullshit.”

4. Honesty breaks addictions: “Honesty can force any dysfunction in your life to the surface. Are you in an abusive relationship? A refusal to lie to others—How did you get that bruise?—would oblige you to come to grips with this situation very quickly. Do you have a problem with drugs or alcohol? Lying is the lifeblood of addiction.”

This is a complex subject. Some evolutionary biologists like Trivers might disagree with this all or nothing stance on lying. They might point out that humans lie because at times it’s best for the survival of the group. 

I don’t know the answer but I do think it’s a powerful concept we must all contemplate for ourselves.

When do you think lying is justified?

Stay strong,
Tai

stay strong, tai, santa clause

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