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Why We Lie

Why We Lie

I teach a class in Ethics and have found that unethical practices often run parallel with lying. We all know that people lie, but why? In my quest to uncover an answer, I found it rooted in three distinct behaviors: Ethical Behavior, Moral Behavior, and Pragmatic Behavior.

Ethical Behavior

Ethical Behavior is based in rules and laws. We have a complete court system to discover whether someone charged with breaking these laws has lied or not.

Few of us, when pulled over for speeding, haven’t attempted to lie our way out of it.

Moral Behavior

It’s a sin to lie. Moral Behavior is faith and values based, starting with how we were programed as a child by our parents. Their behavior, what they believed to be true, liked or disliked, accepted or rejected, said or didn’t say, what they chose to wear, drive, and eat became a meta model to us as children.

Moral behavior and parental messages are an integral part of who we are today. We unconsciously adapt these imprinted behaviors as our choice.

When I was ten, our doorbell rang and my mother said, “It’s a salesman. Tell him I’m not home.” My mother, who washed my mouth out with soap for lying, taught me it’s okay to lie to a salesman.

Pragmatic Behavior

Pragmatic Behavior is an ego and/or entitlement based interpretation of reality and truth. When lying, contextual reframing to justify it is used. “It was a little White Lie. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”

Wife, “Does this outfit make me look fat?”

Husband, (Reframe) “No sweetie, you make every outfit look beautiful.”

Being happily married for over 40 years, I must say this is the right answer!

Daily, ‘High Profile Personalities’ exhibit ‘Pragmatic Behavior’ partly because of public adoration and partly because no one tells them otherwise. After a while, they actually feel they have different standards than the minions, not to mention how media plays to their ego.

A reporter confronted Donald Trump with, “Didn’t you bankrupt Trump Casino in Atlantic City?” He answered, “I made Atlantic City a lot of money.” He justified his actions then reframed it so as not to be called a lie.

Lance Armstrong — Just look how long he perpetrated the lie regarding ‘doping’. Here’s his justification, “… everyone was doping… I was just leveling the playing field.”

And the list goes on:

Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Martha Stewart, Charlie Sheen, Brian Williams, and Paula Deen!

Even Jell-O Pudding Pop, Dr. Huxtable himself, Bill Crosby.

We may have a dominant behavior; nevertheless, all three reside within us. It seems that Truth is on trial and lying becomes the norm.

What is the answer as to why people lie?

Ethically we don’t want to be found guilty.

Morally we know lying is wrong. However, Mom did it, my priest did it, so I’ll do it and pray for forgiveness later.

Pragmatically we believe lying is needed to get ahead or to Win?

Is that TRUE? Well that depends on what the meaning of “is” is.


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