Faculty Articles

When the truth hurts: Deception in the name of kindness

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Feeling hurt in close relationships

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Everyone lies. It would be impossible to prove that definitively, but we believe it to be so. But we also believe that it is truth-telling, rather than deception, that is the human default position. People typically prefer to tell the truth. They want to be honest, they want to see themselves as honest, and they want other people to see them that way. Ordinary humans – that is, the vast majority, who are not pathological liars – usually need a reason to lie. Lying, then, often grows out of a conflict. On the one side is the desire to be truthful, and on the other is some goal that cannot be attained (or cannot easily be attained) by telling the truth. Something has to give. If the sought-after prize is sufficiently shiny and bright, then often it is the truth that is left by the wayside. Lying has a bad reputation. When we think of instances in which people set aside the truth to get what they want, often what we envision as the prize is something rather seedy or at least self-serving. Boatloads of money, for example. Or an ill-deserved promotion. Or 15 minutes of unearned fame. And in fact, people do lie for such reasons. But lies told for crass, materialistic, self-serving reasons are just one slice of the lie-telling pie, and not even a very big one at that.



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