I’ve been thinking a lot about lying.
It started when I was sitting in traffic listening to a report on the radio about Fox News and their pricey recent defamation case settlement.
They released a statement in which they said it reflected their “commitment to the highest standards of journalistic integrity”.
Later that day I read a report about the spurious “farms” invented by supermarkets to make their factory-farmed produce more appealing to shoppers with a conscience.
It isn’t so much the bare-faced lies as our seeming willingness to accept them, so why are we so easily taken in?
One explanation for believing in fake news about fake news and the farms that don’t exist is that they support what we already want to believe.
If you are of a particular political persuasion you’ll be drawn towards anything that seems to prove you’re right to believe what you do, and if you want to feel you’re buying chickens who were free to roam around in the pages of “The Darling Buds Of May” you’ll be comforted by any cynical marketing ploy that plays into that narrative.
When we already believe something, any new evidence sits alongside the existing belief which constantly undermines its power to prevail.
What’s more, when we tell a lie, the cognitive dissonance that results from doing something we know to be “wrong” can make us change our faith in the truth just to stop us from feeling discomfort at the inner conflict.
In “A History Of Lying” by Juan Jacinto Munoz-Rengel he writes that people sharing playlists on Spotify, “stop listening to the things they want to and begin prioritising instead the image of themselves.”
In telling others what we think they want to hear we hope that we will increase their favour toward us, and then we do the same to ourselves, living out the lies because we believe that they are representative of who we ought to be rather than who we actually are.
“I don’t have a problem with alcohol.”
“My wife and I are very close. We have a good marriage.”
“I know that used to cause me problems but it doesn’t anymore.”
I’ve heard these lines many times but they’re frequently lies we’re telling ourselves to avoid the pain and effort of congruence.
In my corporate life, long before therapy, I told myself lies about how satisfied I was.
I had a good salary, international travel and, I suppose, some social status.
It was easier to tell myself it was what I wanted than face the truth and leave it all behind to do something different and altogether more risky.
Secretly, I would often sit in traffic on the motorway staring into the fields and wishing myself amongst the trees, but that truth mostly felt overwhelming because it seemed so unreachable when everything I had seemed connected to the person I imagined everyone else expected me to be.
But lying is a reality of our lives so there is little point in trying to eradicate it.
In one study Bella DePaulo found that most of us lie on average at least once or twice a day, or 730 times a year, or 58,400 times in the course of an average life, not accounting for stretches of intense lying that might accompany some of our more testing or forgettable periods, so it might be that a realistic aim is to limit the damage done when we lie, with particular focus on the lies we tell to ourselves.
That lie I told myself sitting in traffic, that I was happy in the corporate world, eventually fell apart in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary.
These days, most mornings I walk the dogs through the woods where we climb up a hill and look out over a stretch of motorway I used to crawl along to work every day.
The desire to be my true self, standing in the trees looking out at the traffic was an absolute truth, and every day I reflect on how it is every bit as wonderful as I imagined it to be.