The Truth Behind Lies

Everybody lies.

It was a tagline on House, M.D., the television show in which a doctor had to navigate a web of illusions and untruths to diagnose mysterious maladies. Dr. House listened to what patients had to say, but he never trusted it until he proved it himself.

Scientific research has demonstrated that everybody lies. Part of the social contract that keeps society functioning includes a network of small lies, starting with “How are you?” and “Fine, thank you.” We have all agreed to suspend disbelief, to a certain extent, in the context of social niceties.

Additional research shows that everyone lies on the internet especially, and that the more anonymous the online setting, the more likely people are to lie. This is bad news for virtual worlds, which are basically anonymous. Apart from the element of fantasy, for instance making one’s avatar look different from one’s real-life self, the anonymity of the virtual world makes it easy for us to invent stories and conceal truth.

I think about this a lot when I perceive that I am being lied to. I rarely confront someone about it, nor do I let on that I realize they are lying. But I do think about it. Most of all, I wonder: Why? Why are they lying to me?

There can be a lot of answers to that question. Personally, I sometimes lie to preserve my privacy. When writing online profiles I usually say that I live in NYC. I don’t. I live near NYC, and I do spend time there, but I don’t live there. I don’t really want strangers to know where I live. I think that is a fairly smart lie and I doubt many would disagree.

“Privacy lies” like this happen when someone is pressuring you to reveal something about yourself that is actually none of their business. When someone lies to me, I wonder whether the person perceives me to be prying, and is trying to protect his or her privacy. In other words, is the lie basically a way of telling me to back off? I can understand that.

People also may lie to protect themselves from punishment. “Self-preservation lies” may happen when we have done something we weren’t supposed to do, or when we have not done something that we were supposed to do. If someone tells me a lie because they don’t want me to be angry at them, I can accept that. But I am still disappointed that I have been lied to. It indicates the presence of a basic rift in my relationship with that person, and it makes me sad that they do not trust me with the truth.

Then there is the “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings” lie. Sometimes this type of lie is actually compassionate, or at least benign, like when he assures her that she doesn’t look fat in those pants. But this type of lie can also be an attempt to cover up something that is extremely hurtful. It makes me anxious, wondering: what is this thing that would hurt my feelings? Just how hurtful is it?

Although I can forgive many lies, without knowing the reason why someone is lying to me, my imagination has to juggle all the possibilities. It’s exhausting. On one hand, I want to be compassionate if the person has good reason to protect their privacy. On the other hand, part of me wonders whether something hurtful is being concealed. And then I begin to wonder why the person does not trust me enough to be honest.

So, in the end, even benign lies leave me with inner turmoil, hurt feelings, sadness, disappointment and suspicion.

But since everybody lies, I suppose the burden falls on me to cope with it.



Living with Conflict

I have a dear friend who simply does not understand my affinity for BDSM. Despite countless in-depth conversations, in which I do my level best to explain it to him, he persists in his belief that submission is demeaning and that everyone really prefers freedom.

Believing himself to be an open-minded person, he has constructed an illusion in which he does support submission. He does this by re-defining, in his own mind at least, what submission is; or by inventing a complicated argument that submission is in fact dominance. By clinging to this dubious construct, he can appear to agree with me, while never actually changing his beliefs.

He doesn’t get it. He probably never will. And I must live with that.

The illusion works for him within the limits of a conversation about abstract thought, when his ideas are not put to the test. But inevitably, something concrete will happen that forces the abstraction to materialize into action. Then, his actions do not bear out his conciliatory words. The curtain is pulled aside, and his true beliefs are revealed. And the truth is that he just doesn’t get it. He probably never will. And I must live with that.

It pains me to be at odds with my dear friend over this important aspect of my life. I would love to share my joy with him, but I can’t, because he doesn’t believe in it. While painful, conflict in a relationship is not at all unusual. I think we all find ourselves, at some point, having a major difference of opinion within the context of a close relationship. When it happens, must we choose between winning the argument and preserving the relationship? Is it possible to prove your point without hurting the other person? Is it necessary to capitulate, to keep the friendship intact? Or must we avoid conflict at all costs, agreeing not to mention certain issues, or pretending that the conflict does not exist?

We are genetically more invested in winning arguments than in thinking clearly.

These questions become even more complicated when we consider the fact that humans are inherently irrational – even the ones who most adamantly claim to be rational. Scientists have demonstrated that we are genetically more invested in winning arguments than in thinking clearly. It has been proven countless times that facts usually do not change our minds. We – all of us – experience something called “confirmation bias,” a trait that is hard-wired into our genes. It means that we all tend to embrace information that supports our current beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.

Furthermore, we also have a trait called “cognitive immunization” which means that the stronger our beliefs, the less likely it is that facts will sway us… no matter how true the facts are. The person you are arguing with probably will not be swayed by logic, reason or facts that contradict his or her beliefs. In fact, it is more likely that he or she will just become more entrenched.

Given that this is true, when two people have conflicting beliefs, it seems to me that arguing is pointless.

Given the choice between proving my point, and preserving the health of a relationship, I choose the relationship. Every time.

Given the choice between proving my point, and preserving the relationship, I choose the relationship. Every time.

So, I must let go of my disappointment that my dear friend does not share my understanding of submission. My dear friend is very important to me, and I want him in my life. I find great joy in submission, but I do not wish to wreck a friendship by insisting on winning an argument.

I also suspect that if I chose to associate only with friends who agree with my beliefs about submission, that would be a form of confirmation bias. My friends have many shades of beliefs and opinions about submission and BDSM. It is quite a varied tapestry. Total unanimity on this or any point probably cannot be achieved. And a circle of friends who all think alike could be a little boring.

So, I will accept the presence of the conflict and learn to co-exist with that tension. I will stop trying to convince anyone of the truth of my beliefs. Living with conflict is not comfortable. But there are many, many other things about those relationships that make them totally worth the effort.