I find the amount people in this world that lie without even having to think about it to be absolutely astonishing. And disturbing. When I tell a lie – even a little one – I agonize over it for days. I told a lie a few days ago and still cannot get over it; not becau.se I feel bad for the person or the consequence of the lie, but just that I truly believe lying is an awful thing to do. There are quite a few ways a person can lie, but in all of them the only thing really going on is that the liar could care less about the person they are lying to. Here’s why:
The first, most obvious, case of lying, is simply that the person telling the lie is says one thing while thinking something else. I’m sure a lot of people would argue that a “little white lie” is okay, particularly when they are worried they will hurt the other person’s feelings. A woman asks her husband: “does this dress make my ass look like the size of Texas?” Of course, the husband responds “no, honey … you look beautiful” while thinking it actually looks like Texas and New Mexico combined. No harm, no foul right? Except for the fact that the woman may be on her way to a job interview, or out to her ten year high school reunion. By telling a lie to preserve his wife’s feelings, the husband could be potentially making a fool of his wife.
In this first case of lying as well, there is the malicious lie: the lie that is told merely for the sake of intentionally deceiving another for the sake of the liar’s personal gain. No matter how minor the offense (e.g. lying about taking a cookie for the sake of not getting in trouble), or major the issue at hand (e.g. lying about committing a crime), the intentional deceit of another is not to be taken lightly. In the DSM-IV, this type of lying is listed in a myriad of mental illnesses, from narcissistic personality disorder to psychopathy, to even bipolar disorder. A person that lies like this on a regular basis is always questionable in character.
The second case of lying is in omission, or rather leaving out information for the purpose of deceiving another. It seems that so many people live by the adage “what they don’t know won’t hurt them;” however, again we are confronted with the same problem as in the first case of lying. Who is to judge what information will or will not hurt a person? As autonomous human beings in an extremely relativistic world, we are really the only ones who can judge for ourselves what is good and bad.
Now while I am sure there are plenty of cases in which information omitted has not harmed anyone, there are probably an equal number of cases where it has. I can name off the top of my head a whole host of times in my own experiences that information left out has at the very least made life more difficult, at the most ruined entire relationships.
The final case of lying is when someone lies to themselves. This is probably the most atrocious case of lying, for in lying to oneself you in essence double-lie. This case of lying is probably the least damnable, for it is more a matter of the liar’s inability to accept reality; nonetheless, it is wrong.
The thing about lying is that if a person proves themselves to do it, and to do it frequently, there is absolutely no basis on which to trust them. I can tell you that there are a lot of people I know that lie through their teeth, almost easier than they breath (and you know who you are). Every time I catch one of their repetitive and often nonsensical lies, I trust them less and less.
From my days as a graduate student in philosophy, I am still plagued with the ramblings of Immanuel Kant – an 18th century philosopher who wrote with such verbosity my eyes bleed at the mere thought of ever reading him again. The one thing I took to heart from Kant was that you should live your moral life according to the maxim (and I am paraphrasing): act in a way that you would prefer others to act towards you. In other words, that “do unto others” Golden Rule that seems to work the best when applied to most of life’s moral dilemmas. To me, I want people to trust me and my word, just as I want to be told the truth at all costs. So the old joke is “I Kant tell a lie,” or really I just cannot bring myself to lie without moral reserve because I know that if it were me on the other end, I would want to know the truth.