Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Non-Liar's Conundrum

A friend was telling me last night about a particularly deceitful person they used to work with. This individual–let's call them Wanda–stole from the workplace, lied, and even (gasp) schemed!

Wanda sounded like a great character for a story. So naturally I starting cogitating about her, trying to figure out how to use her in one project or another. And while I was doing all this thinking, I asked a simple question: Why do people lie?

I'm not talking about the polite lies or evasions needed for social skills, like complementing someone's new hairdo even though you liked the old style better. I'm talking about deceit, trickery, cover ups–the kind of stuff that does damage.

The answer is that people lie because it works. Or at least they think it works.

The fact is that liars are deceived by regular, non-lying folk, because we're uncomfortable pointing out the lies. We might even like the liar; we might even feel a bit sorry for them. And so we give them a pass–until the liar goes a bit too far. And then big consequences come down on the poor deceitful wretch, and that's that.

The non-liar's conundrum is this: Risk the social discomfort of calling the liar out on their lies, or watch the individual crash and burn. Is it a form of justice to allow the liar to hang themselves? Or does one have a responsibility to try to help that person with tough love?

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