28 May

Sam Harris on Lying

Sam-Harris Sam Harris is one of the sharpest thinkers I had come across. Here are some excerpts from one of his thinnest books, Lying. Though the book is not as well thought out as some of his other works, I culled out these gems from the book. I put a Heart next to the ones that hit a chord somewhere. Though, you might want to put your heat next to something else:

  • We often behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy. Many of us spend our lives marching with open eyes toward remorse, regret , guilt, and disappointment. And nowhere do our injuries seem more casually self-inflicted, or the suffering we create more disproportionate to the needs of the moment, than in the lies we tell to other human beings. Lying is the royal road to chaos. Heart
  • Endless forms of suffering and embarrassment could be easily avoided by simply telling the truth.
  • The boundary between lying and deception is often vague. It is even possible to deceive with the truth.
  • People lie so that others will form beliefs that are not true. The more consequential the beliefs— that is, the more a person’s well-being demands a correct understanding of the world or of other people’s opinions— the more consequential the lie.
  • To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication. Heart
  • To speak truthfully is to accurately represent one’s beliefs.
  • If one is not sure whether or not something is true, representing one’s degree of uncertainty is a form of honesty.
  • The intent to communicate honestly is the measure of truthfulness. Heart
  • Even liars rate their deceptive interactions as less pleasant than truthful ones.
  • Deception and suspicion are two sides of the same coin. Research suggests that all forms of lying— including white lies meant to spare the feelings of others— are associated with less satisfying relationships.
  • Honest people are a refuge. Heart
  • You know [the honest people] will tell you when they think you have failed— and for this reason their praise cannot be mistaken for mere flattery.
  • Honesty is a gift we can give to others. Heart
  • [If we are honest,] we can simply be ourselves in every moment.
  • In committing to being honest with everyone, we commit to avoiding a wide range of long-term problems, but at the cost of occasional short-term discomfort.
  • To [be honest] is also to hold a mirror up to one’s life—because a commitment to telling the truth requires that one pay attention to what the truth is in every moment. Heart
  • Honesty can force any dysfunction in your life to the surface.
  • Lying is the lifeblood of addiction.
  • Ethical transgressions are generally divided into two categories: the bad things we do (acts of commission) and the good things we fail to do (acts of omission).
  • Sincerity, authenticity, integrity, mutual understanding— these and other sources of moral wealth are destroyed the moment we deliberately misrepresent our beliefs, whether or not our lies are ever discovered.
  • Responding honestly to the subtext would not be lying.
  • Unless one commits to telling the truth in situations like this , however, one finds that the edges creep inward, and exceptions to the principle of honesty begin to multiply.
  • False encouragement is a kind of theft: It steals time, energy, and motivation that a person could put toward some other purpose.
  • [Lucy] lied so effortlessly and persuasively that Jessica was left wondering if she had ever been deceived by Lucy in the past.
  • Failures of personal integrity, once revealed, are rarely forgotten.
  • A commitment to honesty does not necessarily require that we disclose facts about ourselves that we would prefer to keep private .
  • Psychopaths can assume the burden of mental accounting [of lying] without any obvious distress.
  • Lies beget other lies.
  • When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of.
  • Tell enough lies, and the effort needed to keep your audience in the dark eventually becomes unsustainable. While you might be spared a direct accusation of dishonesty, many people will conclude, for reasons they might be unable to pinpoint, that they cannot trust you. You will begin to seem like someone who is always dancing around the facts.
  • No one ever quite confronts [the liars], but everyone begins to treat them like creatures of fiction. Such people are often quietly shunned, for reasons they probably never understand.
  • Liars trust those they deceive less than they otherwise might— and the more damaging their lies, the less they trust, or even like, their victims.
  • To lie is to recoil from relationship. Heart
  • Lies are the social equivalent of toxic waste

Sam Harris makes me realize that my biggest personal achievement is that I have trained myself to lie very little, if at all.

I ‘think’ that I never lie on things that are consequential (though I do succumb to the temptations of occasional white lies). I make it a point to indicate the probability of my uncertainty when it matters. I never pretend that an intentional act of omission with the intent to deceive doesn’t amount to lying. Neither do I intentionally mislead someone when a truthful communication is warranted!

Note: Of course, I don't confuse protecting my privacy with lying.

Stopping the habit of lying some twenty years ago was a great character builder. Being married to someone whose take on honesty is very similar to my own has been the single biggest blessing in my relationship. If there is one trait that I would love for my son to pick up from me, it would be my soft corner for honesty. Luckily, I see no reason why that won’t happen.

2 thoughts on “Sam Harris on Lying

  1. I remember the words from that song “Sometimes when we touch”

    I’d rather hurt you honestly
    Than mislead you with a lie

    It works in business and in relationships…The problem is compounded when one is dealing with the intangibles.

  2. People who are honest and truthful are like oasis in the desert. There aren’t too many around and that is sad. It is wonderful Saravanan, that you choose to embrace the path of transparency and seek to inculcate the same values in your son.

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