Christianity, Greed, and Markets
Even kids know that numbers aren't always the most important thing

Telling Lies

Jonathan B. Wight

Is it always better to tell the truth?

No. For one thing, you may not know the truth. Hence, at best, what you are doing is telling what you think is the truth.

Even if you did know for sure what the truth is, telling a lie about it can make it truthful and telling the truth about it can turn it into a lie. What do I mean?

Suppose someone heading to her prom dance asks you: "How do I look?" What's your answer? If the person is not very pretty at all (studies insist symmetry is the key), and there is nothing to be done about it this moment, lying and saying with gusto and genuine affection: "You're the most gorgeous gal in the world…" makes a cheek glow and puts a smile on her face—she becomes more attractive. Your lie leads toward the truth of your statement! The truth of her question is deeper than simply physical looks, and your lie can get at that deeper meaning.

Suppose instead the prom queen asks "How do I look?" She happens to be gorgeous and you say, "You're the most gorgeous gal in the world…" Now there is a danger she will become conceited and a snob—surface beauty with inner void! The truth becomes a lie!

So much in life is self-fulfilling—what we intrinsically believe about ourselves defines our ambitions and our achievements. Telling ourselves and others lies can change the world for the better. Baba Shiv, Ziv Carmon, and Dan Ariely did some interesting experiments in which they lied to subjects about the powers of a juice elixir to increase their mental performance in word games. Those who were lied to did almost twice as well as those told no lies.

Similarly, when social identity of caste is made explicit to students in India, performance falls in lower castes. We are bundles of belief systems that are more powerful than we can even imagine. Killing a bad ideology is worth a lie or two.

So, go ahead and tell yourself some lies! "You're great! You're handsome! You're funny!" Just be sure to remember the bigger story: others are equally great, handsome, and funny. There's still no free lunch.


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