Imagine, I cheat and tell a lie. I’m reprimanded for having fouled things up and end up with egg on my face. Being always a bad liar, for a fraction of second the honest face disrupts the false face. As I exhibit the symptoms of discomfort……the shifty-looking mumbler in the corner…. I can’t spin a smooth and fluent narrative line. I’ve to eat crow. The difficulty with lying is that the subconscious mind acts automatically and independently of our verbal lie, so our body language gives us away. People like me, who rarely lie, are easily caught regardless of how convincing they may sound. The moment they begin to lie, the subconscious mind sends out nervous energy, which appears as a gesture that gives people a feeling that they aren’t telling truth. Professional liars have refined body gestures to the point where it’s difficult to ‘see’ the lie and people fall for it, hook, line and sinker.
The human capacity to deception is enormous. We’re storytelling creatures by nature. We tell ourselves story after story, until we come up with an explanation that we like, and that sounds reasonable enough to believe, and when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much better. Self-deception causes us to enhance our life-stories, which leads us to suffer a great deal when the truth is ultimately revealed. As we understand we and those around us are dishonest, we start suspecting everyone.
And without trust, our lives become more difficult in almost every way. With the most complex innervations of facial muscles, we use massive numbers of motor-neurons to control them. We’ve language that extraordinarily means manipulating the distance between a message and its meaning. By virtue of our cognitive skills, we finesse (& bend) the truth.
As we’re torn by a fundamental conflict—our deeply ingrained propensity to lie to ourselves and to others, and the desire to think of ourselves as good and honest people, we justify our dishonesty by telling ourselves stories about why our actions are acceptable and sometimes even admirable. We’re pretty skilled at pulling the wool over own eyes.
We’ve a gut-feeling about what we want, and we go through a process of mental-gymnastics, applying all kinds of justifications to manipulate the criteria. That way we can get what we really want, but at the same time keep up the appearance that we’re acting in accordance with our rational and well-reasoned preferences.
We may not always know exactly why we do what we do, choose what we choose, or feel what we feel. The obscurity of our real motivations doesn’t stop us from creating perfectly logical-sounding reasons for our actions, decisions, and feelings. An overly-optimistic view of us forms the basis of our actions. We may assume that things will turn out for the best and consequently not actively make the best decisions.
Faced with the information that suggests we’re wrong about something we try making-up reasons, blaming others, denying there’s an issue at all, before hanging our minds. He who cheats convinces himself that his opponents aren’t worthy of fair play. He overestimates himself, his intelligence and his fairness to others.
People do store accurate information about themselves and the world, but keep it concealed in their subconscious until needed. Self-deception is the source of much of our greatest comedy. We love to laugh at the gap between the way people present themselves and the way they really are. Perhaps this is because we instinctively recognize that all of us need a little self-deception to get by. When we think we’re always honest with ourselves; none of us is. Self-deception is a necessity rather than a problem and that it leads to success at work, better health and happier relationships. We tell the truth because it suits us.
And when it suits us we lie. Without the ability to fool ourselves we’d be sadder, limper, less dynamic creatures, unwilling to meet/rise to challenges. If everyone was completely honest about their beliefs all the time, millions more arguments and fights would start and society splinter. If you said the exact words going through your mind as you thought them, you’ll end up lonely or even finish-up in hospital or prison. Lying is the oil that greases our interactions with others and lets us maintain friendly social relationships.
A degree of unrealistic optimism about ourselves must have helped us survive in the treacherous ancestral environment and confidently impress potential mates. We routinely over-estimate ourselves. And because other people are the only standard which we’ve to go by, we underestimate others.
This exaggerated confidence in our abilities and qualities, the illusion of superiority are extremely sticky. Our inflated sense of potential is underpinned by our tendency towards self-absorption. We tend to think our decisions are shaping the world even when they aren’t. The average person will go a long way to persuade themselves that ‘I’m-nice-and-in-control’. We’re always good at inventing stories that resolve the inconsistency between our actions and our self-image, most of the times we aren’t aware we’re doing so.
Why do we compromise our integrity? Given the opportunity, many honest people cheat. People care about honesty. They want to be honest. Our internal honesty monitor is seemingly active when some of us contemplate big transgressions (accept whopper and refuse itsy-bitsy). It may be so for little transgressions too (accept itsy-bitsy and refuse whopper). In either of the situations, we don’t even consider how these actions would reflect on our honesty and so our superegos stay asleep.
Without the superego’s help, the only defence we’ve against this kind of transgression is rational cost-benefit analysis. When we sign our names to promises that we’ll act with integrity we only care about our personal gain from behaving dishonestly (benefit) and about the likelihood of being caught and the magnitude of punishment if caught (cost). People behave dishonestly enough to profit but honestly enough to ensure themselves of their own integrity.
The idea is that a little bit of dishonesty can provide some benefits without spoiling a positive self-view.