As far as I remember, my mom always told me to act with generosity, claiming that honesty is the best policy. Growing up, we were reprimanded for lying to our parents about a bad school report. As adults, for lying about our resumes and deceiving our other halves in relationships. Lying or spreading misinformation is, however, an aspect of human communication as old as the world.
Throughout history, this aspect has been noted in various cultures and civilizations and ranges from subtle white lies to deliberate and hurtful deceptions. Dissimulating the truth could probably be traced back to the dawn of man. Psychology and evolution have treated this subject for decades, trying to understand the multifaceted fabric that lying is.
Dimensions of the lie have been examined by researchers in the hopes of understanding human beings. However, we are far from being the only animals who lie. Other primates have a propensity to resort to deceptive behavior to survive. And this makes for an exciting subject to dig through. In this piece, I felt it would be pretty exciting to understand more about the actual fact of dissimulating the truth, exploring the motivations that drive us to spread misinformation, and the possible effects deception has on us and on our society.
Misinformation: It's About the Intent
Mirriam-Webster defines lying as the act of making ‘an untrue statement with the intent to deceive.’ It feels a little too simplistic to say that anything untrue is a lie when, in fact, there is often an in-between, and human beings are not the only animals that lie. The word intention is, hence, of the utmost importance here.
We would judge a deceiving behavior that confers advantages in terms of survival and reproduction differently than a lie that covers up cheating on your partner, wouldn’t we? Various researchers have been focusing on distinctive human traits, among which deception, trying to understand the reasons why we lie from a social and survival point of view.
White, gray, black lies – is there really a difference? Nowadays, Isn’t one of the primary motivators to lie the fact that we don’t want to lose face within the community? The me of a year ago would not have minded telling a little white lie, but as I understand my position within the world ever more clearly, it becomes mentally and physically repulsive for me to lie. The reasons for the lie are many, but as each of us is part of a society, every harmless white lie becomes an open door to bigger lies with a genuine impact on our mental health and relationships.
Validation and Admiration
I could start by saying that spreading misinformation has now become the norm, what with social media almost pushing you to become someone else. From a primal point of view, lying and deceiving behaviors confer advantages that range from survival to reproduction. A gazelle hiding from a lion can be considered a deception, can’t it?
The gazelle hides in order to stay alive. At some point early on in history, human beings also hid from animals to stay alive as well as subsistence.
However, in the context of individuals, lying and deceiving behaviors nowadays almost always revolve around a gain of social status, which is also related to survival with the rising costs of living. Spreading misinformation becomes pivotal to evolution when we individuals choose to lie to save face.
Again, that is where we find the intention of deceiving can have a negative impact on mental health. Lying is not without consequences.
Exaggerating stories and concealing events and thoughts create a dissonance between the mind and the heart. I, for once, believe the punishment of not feeling aligned with yourself anymore is harsh enough.
Lies, Acceptance, Admiration
Anxiety and guilt soon follow, with the need to keep up with the lies, which brings even more stress. Society might want individuals to act for acceptance, validation, and admiration, but strong minds know better. Is it really crucial to feel validated by your peers if you are not validated by yourself, the only person who sticks with you from the beginning to the end?
In all honesty, the lie serves us all when we are looking for an easy way to gain status. But it serves no one in search of authenticity. Fostering an atmosphere of authenticity around us is the way to interact with trustworthy people, thus helping us create long-lasting relationships. Curbing the spread of misinformation can only be a successful endeavor if you are mentally equipped to distinguish actual facts from fakeness.
As a writer, it’s become quite difficult for me to go out and simply enjoy life. Enjoying life means everything and nothing at the same time. If I am being realistic, there are a lot of souls around me worth meeting. All of them, really, have something to tell, something to teach me, and something to learn from me. Building connections and intimacy is a goal and a finality I nurture as much as I can. Yet, I have noticed that intimacy, more than money and status, has become the true Holy Grail for myself as much as for those all around me.
With the rising costs of living, we simply do not have the time to build relationships with people who are just as busy as us trying to have bread and butter on the breakfast table at the end of the month. Double that with an acute lack of energy for anything other than resting at the end of a workday. Connections are thinning dangerously.
This seems to give individuals motivation enough to deceive more than we used to. Just for the chance at connection, if only for a little bit of time, even if it has to end. We are fed by the media everywhere we turn our heads. Instagram, Threads, Facebook, you name it. What we are fed is not nutritious. People are becoming statistics, holograms. And as relationships are more challenging to weave and more intricate than they used to be, we lie to be accepted by the first person who will want to give us two or three crumbs of love.
I write a lot about love, a concept I am personally in love with. This very concept seems to have become even more unattainable than it used to be. Is this why apps to meet your other half have been popping up left and right these last few years? Is this why we present ourselves under the best light possible? Why we do not manage to nurture long-lasting relationships anymore? Is it, finally, why we end up thinking we don’t need a partner at all and will do it all by ourselves?
A Dysfunctional Normal
Some lies are inherent to our personalities because they’re made to protect ourselves. And are part of our history from a biological point of view. Humans are used to finding various strategies to hide from animals, survive, and catch said animals to provide for dinner. But we are not really catching animals for dinner, are we? And so we do not need to dissimulate other than to save face. The dysfunction comes into play at the moment when the intention is not as pure as we’d like to make ourselves believe it is. Worse, when the lie becomes harmful to the people we wanted to protect, us included.
The consequences of lying extend beyond interpersonal relationships, and start within. Keeping honest means you can enjoy living with a calm mind. Knowing you are doing and speaking in alignment with your soul. Nowadays, one thing is for sure: lying has become a custom. Open Instagram, and you’ll see retouched photos all over the place. Pictures of influencers we love to admire and copy, but also product pictures with smoothed lines, saturated colors, and clean shapes… Nothing is as it seems anymore. Lying is now standard, and in all cases, is made to protect either our beliefs and values, our own person, or the people close to us. Is lying, is spreading misinformation a bad thing? There’s one thing I love to hold for true: it’s all about the intention.