Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

The Importance of Lying

From a young age we’re told that it’s important to tell the truth, and there’s no question that truthfulness is important. We want to be able to trust what others tell us, and if they lie a lot, and if we uncover their lies, we can’t.

So truth is definitely something to strive for, most of the time.

But lies are almost as important as truth. No one has to tell us the importance of lies. We figure that out at an early age. The first time we do it and get away with it, the first time our brother or sister takes the fall for something we did, or the first time we take the fall for something they did, we understand the importance of lies.

Lies have power, just as truth has power.

A properly told lie can move people to do amazing and terrifying things.

Look at the Gulf of Tonkin incident during the Vietnam War, a fabricated incident to draw the US deeper into the conflict, to get Congress to authorize President Johnson to escalate our presence there.

Or more recently, the shooting at Comet Ping Pong by a North Carolina man who believed that Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring out of the place – a belief fostered by conspiracy theories and blatant lies promulgated by people who wanted to ensure Clinton lost the election.

A good lie, or a series of good lies, can propel you to fantastic heights, even the presidency. And once there, more lies become one of the ways you hold onto power. Nixon famously claimed he was not a crook. Bill Clinton asserted that his presidency would be the most ethical in history.

George W. Bush – following his father, who asked us to read his lips (No new taxes, then raised them) – told us he would not be a nation builder, then became the largest nation builder in our history. Obama said he would lead a transparent administration and then didn’t.

Trump, well… what can I say about Trump and his many lies, too numerous to detail?

The point is, lying produces results just as well as, and sometimes better than, the truth. Lies offer us the opportunity to manipulate the people around us, to get them to do what we want them to do.

But even apart from malicious ends, lies serve important purposes. For example, we don’t tell our bosses what we really think of them because we want to keep our jobs and if we tell them the truth, we likely won’t. We don’t tell our friends and family that what they’re doing annoys or irritates us (at least, not all the time).

Sometimes we express ourselves honestly, but often that results in hurt feelings. And so the next time, we think twice before issuing a true statement about whether those pants make her look fat or if we mind that he’s going out to the bar with his friends again.

So when someone claims he doesn’t lie, when someone talks about how important honesty is, consider carefully what that really means. It may mean that the person really believes he tells the truth all the time. In that case, he either is defining truth differently than the rest of us would or he’s delusional or he’s trying to manipulate you.

We all lie. Not all the time (maybe not even often), and some of us only lie for good reasons, but we all lie. We do it because it’s a survival skill that’s been passed down from generation to generation. We’ve learned the power of the lie and we understand its importance.

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