Why Do People Lie?

Posted on Mar 12, 2014


O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, 1808

Pinocchio by Enrico Mazzanti (1852-1910)

Pinocchio by Enrico Mazzanti (1852-1910) – the first illustrator (1883) of Le avventure di Pinocchio.

Why do people Lie? This is a huge question that has some bewilderingly frustrating answers.
I hate the act of lying for one lie breeds another until you don’t know what’s true anymore. It can have damaging consequences and the fallout far-reaching.

People lie for all sorts of reasons, money one of them that many reading will know only too well. You may have lent money to someone and they say that they’ll pay you back next week but don’t. Then they say they’ll pay you back the week after. And then you don’t see them, they don’t answer their phone and suddenly you fear you will never see them or your money again.
You may be the one who has borrowed and lie because you simply don’t have it but instead of being honest, you lie for it is easier for you to do so. In fact it is easier for all concerned if you were just honest and were upfront about things. Maybe we could help in some way that doesn’t involve lending again of course.
The liar is so used to it though that it is just an automatic thing for them to do, like eating or breathing.

It may not be about money either. It could be that someone is having an affair or you know someone who is and could possibly put things right by being honest but the lie is easier than facing the truth.

Some lie because it’s a way of life for them, even a career must. Politicians, writers, actors, magicians and spies all do this for various reasons, either to keep things from us or to tell a story. Some lies it seems are tolerated, even accepted as a necessary evil, the thinking being it is for our own good as in the case of politics.

I worked in a pub for six years of my life and it’s interesting when they say a roast dinner for instance is just that when in fact it wasn’t roasted at all. In fact, as a mate pointed out to me, a roast isn’t a roast anyway but baked. This isn’t a lie of course but it is when you are selling something that states it is to the general public. Just so you know, the meat was baked or microwaved, the Yorkshire puddings in the millstream, the veg in the microwave and the peas just boiled. As for the ‘roast’ potatoes, they were deep fried so really they were just fat chips. Most of this was pre-cooked anyway and the ‘cooks did the rest.

The lies that frustrate me are the ones told by friends and family for they hurt the most. If you can’t be honest with those you love then you have no business being in their lives. The truth will out as the saying goes.

I generally find it easy to tell when someone is lying to me. It’s in their mannerisms, the way they avoid eye contact, their body language in general and just the way that they are around me. Some even smile when they are lying and are very obvious, whilst others play it straight and probably believe what they are saying, convincing themselves to help them through it. I can almost always spot them though. It’s very sad that they feel they have to do it in the first place and can even make me very angry, something of which I rarely get. Frustrated is probably as close to real anger I have ever got. I sometimes let them know that I know but mostly I let them tell it, digging themselves deeper until the time is right when they will admit it to me and themselves and anyone else it may have affected.

I have been put in some very awkward positions because of the lies of others and it has had a domino-like effect, spreading to others who don’t even know the liar in question. It’s these people who I feel sorry for the most but the lair doesn’t care or understand what they’re doing or have done. I have been lied to on the same subject but the lie becomes different every time it is told and the liar doesn’t realise that they are telling it differently.

The most famous liar of all is one from fiction, that of Pinocchio written by italian authour Carlo Collodi, the wooden boy whose nose grows when he lies. We still use it to teach kids not to lie by telling them if they do so their nose will grow big. They touch their noses just to check in case it’s true. In the real world we have had Bill Clinton on his affair with Monica Lewinsky. It was obvious to all who watched him on their television screens that he was lying. Tony Blair, the leader a country believed in has been to court over the whole Iraq war and what took our country there. This was an extreme lie and one that will continue to have consequences for many years; decades even to come. And let’s not forget Lance Armstrong and what he did.

So is lying a psychological problem? Is it an illness that requires treatment? And how many stages are there before it becomes something else entirely?

It seems there are many forms of lies and that we learn from a very young age although we are unsure of the act in which we participate. A 2-6 year old thinks it’s a game to play and yet I am convinced some actually know it’s wrong to do so but they have already learned it for good or for bad from those around them. So who is to fault for this? The parents? The teachers perhaps? Other kids or maybe other family? Maybe even television or literature is responsible. In truth it is an unavoidable part of life. You may learn to lie first but most of us learn to be honest and do the right thing after. At least I like to believe so anyway.

Lying can also lead to very real problems of the psychological kind and if not checked early can have very devastating results. Sometimes there is nothing that can be done but get the right help at the right time. Apparently most of us lie once or twice a day according to some psychologists (although I don’t!), that until the 1980’s, has only just been recognised in the field as something to be of concern, which is crazy when you think about it for serial killers are generally very good at deceit. They have to be if they are to continue with their grim ‘work’.

Serial killers though are the extreme and enter pathological level or Pseudologia_fantastica although little is still known about the illness or even if it can be cured.

Truth or Lie?

Picture courtesy of andrew-wittman.com

I have been trying to research this subject for this post and believe me there is a lot out there but most agree on one thing, and that is that there is not a simple answer as to its cause as such. That is why these words are just my thoughts alone and not of anyone else. I am trying to understand why we do it and if the world would be a better place if we were all honest? Probably not for if we were then we would no doubt die as a species. Sometimes a lie is easier than the truth. It seems to be a survival mechanism inherent in us all.

Personally I see it as fear. People are generally scared of the truth and honesty so they lie because it’s what we know and are used to. The church and indeed religion in general has been doing it for centuries as have many institutions that we should trust and do so with our lives.

Have I ever lied? Of course I have. I wouldn’t be human if I hadn’t. I have told little white lies to huge whoppers, the latter of which I haven’t done in almost ten years and wasn’t a frequent thing either. I was put in an awkward position back then and if I wanted to continue with my life at the time then the lie was the only option which I regret immensely, yet thinking of it now as I write this, it wasn’t even for my benefit in the end; it was to help those closest to me whilst trying to retain some sanity for myself. It didn’t work out for me. I lost one of my dreams and everyone else did well from it. It just goes to show that even for good, lies don’t play nice. Anyway, in effect it wasn’t a lie as such, more of keeping something back from others so I could do what was necessary and return to the dream. I still have that dream and have a different and more positive outlook on life now. I’ve learned a lot and yet in some cases have learned very little as in the cases of those that lie to me who I help.

As for little white lies, well they can be harmless if used correctly but sometimes even these can spiral out of control. I personally am as honest as I can be without revealing all to everyone and without being an open book. You don’t have to lie to keep things back. I once told one of my old bosses and great friends who I have not see in a long while that I don’t lie, I just exaggerate the truth a little. He spat out his bottle of Becks at this laughing. I still use that line to this day because it’s true. Sometimes you have to do things that make you uncomfortable to get you what you want or need but not at the expense of others.

So have I come to any conclusions after writing this? Not really. Only that people fear what may happen if they are honest. Silly really. I have had many missed opportunities because of the lies and avoidance of others. With personal relationships, be it with friends or family, it is usually best to be honest rather than lie for you will be alone and unloved if you take the latter route. As for politicians and others of their ilk, it is their job to lie even if we have had enough of it. They have no morals anyway and can’t tell when to do the right thing or not for they cross many a blurred line.

All I can do is to be as honest as possible and if those around me lie, then I only hope that they can learn from their mistakes and will do right in the end before it is too late.

Your lies will always find you out in the end so be wary or better still just don’t do it.

For more on lying please click here