Dishonesty. Fibbing. Telling an untruth. Purposeful distortion. Misleading. Gilding the lily. Deception. These are all synonyms for the same thing: lying.
In her classic talk from TEDGlobal 2011, “How to Spot a Liar,” Pamela Meyer outlines what she believes to be an epidemic and gives practical tips for how anyone can tell when someone is laying a whopper on them. Today’s TEDWeekends on the Huffington Post spins off from Meyer’s talk, delving into the topic of “Understanding deception.”
To the left, a visualization of the murky waters between truth, lies, understatements, exaggerations, concealments and equivocations. And below, some TEDWeekends essays that riff on the theme.
Lying: Even t-shirts know how bad it is.
The other day a guy walked past me wearing a t-shirt with two words on it: “Everybody lies.” It made me laugh.
Of course it’s true. We all lie, but mostly in harmless or benign ways. Like telling your husband you don’t mind if he watches football. Like telling your wife you like her new haircut when it’s too short. What’s the point in telling the truth? Her hair will take months to grow back anyway. Why cause a tidal wave of tears?
But our deception epidemic is not all cute, funny, and kind.
Pamela Myers begins her TEDTalk on deception with an accusation that might start a fight with a different audience. “You are all liars.” I’d like to unwrap this idea in order to examine two areas. The first maps the broad spectrum of lies, from the socially sanctioned and the self-deceiving to the conscious intent to mislead. The second area pertains to the lying animal, homo mendax, us humans. Recent discoveries in how the brain edits reality are radically changing the view of our relationship to truth.
If you had to explain our understanding of honesty to an alien, it might prove quite difficult.
At the heart of our ad-saturated democratic process is a moral paradox. Politicians raise and spend billions of dollars to convince us to trust them with the responsibility of governing us. But (as I argued in an earlier post) the fevered competition for votes virtually compels them to lie to us. Because lying inevitably undermines trust, including citizens’ trust in their leaders and in government generally, we have cause to worry about the increasing dishonesty of political campaigns. For leaders distrusted by their constituents cannot hope to unify them behind efforts to tackle the urgent problems afflicting our communities, states, and nation.
As this year’s elections proved, when today’s consultant-driven campaigns fixate on the likely “effectiveness” of their messages, accuracy is a secondary concern.
Graphic: Designed by Pop Chart Lab