An alternative to truth and lies

January 29, 2011 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Evolutionary Psychology, Freedom, Tips

An incredibly useful perspective in some half-baked notes to a friend. I’ll develop them more in future posts. Feedback and criticism appreciated.

You wrote about lying as an example of a “bad trait”. I’d like to suggest another perspective (generalizable from just lying to other aspects of apparent lack of empathy): that the reason people communicate is not to convey truths. Evaluating people according to truths and lies holds them to impossible standards that hurts oneself in the long run by creating judgmental emotions and decreasing your ability to influence people who are hurting you.

A perspective I find more helpful is that we, like all animals, communicate to influence others to help us in our goals. All animals communicate and all animals deceive each other, prey, mates, predators, etc. Animals imply they have poison when they don’t, that they’re wounded when they’re not, that they’re stronger than they are, etc. We imply we have greater status than we do, that we’re taller than we are, that we have more resources than we do, etc. Social animals like us deceive each other relatively more because we take up more of each others’ lives. We keep track of each others’ reputations and credibility more than most species to help minimize our losses due to others’ deception.

Focusing on truths and lies leads to labeling, blaming, looking for flaws, moralizing. Like all humans, you deceive others a lot more than you think you do, unless by “almost always 100% honest” you mean a lot less than 100%. When you evaluate people by standards they don’t fit, you create emotions like indignation, self-righteousness, and the like. That’s my experience, anyway. I don’t like feeling those emotions and I find they decrease my chances of influencing others.

I recommend just assuming people are communicating with you to influence you to help themselves, just like you are with them. I predict their and your deceptions will bother you less or not at all (not that you seemed that bothered by them). The point is not to try to stop others from deceiving you. I see no value in tilting at windmills, which creates frustration and leads to futility. You might as well try to fly by stopping gravity. My point — I shouldn’t bury it at the end of a paragraph in the middle, but here it is — is not if you can improve the people around you — good luck trying to change people based on your evaluations of them lying to you — but how you allow your life, particularly your emotional well-being, to be affected by other
people being who they are.

In this perspective, if you discover someone’s deception hurt you, you end up not getting as angry, though you will likely downgrade your assessment of their reputation and credibility and trust them less. If you want people to deceive you less, you’ll be more effective if you respond thoughtfully and less judgmentally or reactively, which this perspective helps. You communicate about what people are communicating about rather than judging and moralizing. Your emotions will be more about curiosity and helpfulness than suspicion and self-righteousness.

Maybe I’m creating a false dichotomy, but I’ll choose rewarding emotions and effectiveness influencing others over frustration and annoyance based on judging people by impossible standards, motivating them to hold their ground.

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