“How do you tell a kid not to use a thing that solves every possible problem, like magic?” – Comedian Louis CK talking about his daughter lying and wondering what to do about it. Kids learn to deceive at a very young age, and as adults many of us continue to lie regularly, but why do we do it? And is it ever right to lie or is it always better to tell the truth?
According to an article in National Geographic, kids tell an average of one to two lies per day. Lying then increases in teenage years, with the average teen telling three lies per day, and then drops to twice a day for adults. Obviously, some people lie more than others, but it seems that almost all of us tell lies sometimes, and we do it for a range of reasons: to avoid awkwardness, to get out of trouble, to make ourselves look better in the eyes of others, and to avoid hurting people’s feelings.
But do lies really solve all our problems? Many of us would agree probably not, but it might feel like they do in the moment, and many people think that telling white lies is okay. White lies are lies told to prevent other people from being hurt, embarrassed or scared. Think about your grandmother cooking you a meal that tastes bad, and then asking you how the food is; how would you answer? Would you lie to her to spare her feelings, or would you try to find some way to tell the truth? An article in The Conversation suggests that it might be better to say it tastes good, explaining that white lies are an important part of our social fabric, used in order to manage and maintain relationships, and that even more serious lies in the right situation can prevent suffering and harm.
Philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris disagrees with this. On his podcast, and in his book Lying, he makes the argument that it’s almost always better to tell the truth, and explains that when you lie to someone, it’s like you’re no longer on the same team. When lying, your wish to avoid awkwardness is competing against real connection to the other person and what they feel they need to know about the world. Even when telling white lies and believing we are doing it to benefit our friends or loved ones, we are actually preventing them from knowing the truth about themselves, and their lack of knowledge might have negative consequences for them. In contrast, telling the truth will benefit your relationships by creating trust. Sam explains that if you are consistently honest, the people in your life will have more confidence in you, as they will know that you will never lie to them and that any praise you give will be genuine.
Psychotherapist Dr Brad Blanton takes the argument in favour of telling the truth a step further. In his book Radical Honesty, he argues that lying is the biggest source of human stress, and to become psychologically healthy, we need to be truthful. This includes being genuine and revealing the truth about yourself to your loved ones, and being honest about your thoughts and feelings at any given moment. Blanton goes on to say that only when you are honestly yourself can someone really love you; if you’re not being honest, they can only love the behaviour that you put on.
Although lies may indeed have a role to play in maintaining social relationships and, at times, can make our lives easier, it seems that trying to be honest as much as you can is something to work towards.
IELTS Reading Questions for Lying:
Matching Headings & Sentence Completion.
Sources and links from Lying
– Louis CK YouTube clip about his daughter starting to tell lies.
– National Geographic lying quiz and statistics – find out if you lie more than average.
– Article in The Conversation about how lying be good for society.
– Sam Harris’ website. The information in this article came from his book, Lying and from his podcasts.
– Brad Blanton’s Radical Honesty website.
– Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay