culture


As the year comes to close, we slip under the guilt of failure at keeping resolutions we made at the beginning of the year. This year will be better, so we lie to others and to ourselves. If you want to do good, why wait, says Sanjiv Ailawadi.

I

didn’t really think I could do it, didn’t even want to, but I promised myself I would anyway. It made me feel so much better.

Pretending to myself has that kind of effect. It cocoons me into a state of cosy bliss. Helps me live in denial. Hasty promises, forgotten agreements, misplaced contracts, irresolute resolutions become habitual the longer one lives. Pledges broken again and again. Made to myself, and to others.

It’s official and its global. Lying is universal – we all do it (Mark Twain). A worldwide problem of integrity. On an average, “first marriages” last only for eight years (and its getting shorter): marriage vows junked, starry eyed promises made, crushed in a melee of shattered hearts, stormy passions and smashed pans.sanjiv january2017 pullquotes1

Little babies are not so innocent after all: it takes just under eight months for infants to become skilful liars using fake tears to fool doting parents.

Research shows that well-meaning new year’s resolutions are broken in about eight weeks by more than half of those who made them. And only a tiny percentage – just 8 (the magic number?) - have some vestige of it still loitering nebulously in their conscience by the time the next New Year’s eve rolls around.

New Year’s resolutions are mostly fibs we tell ourselves, hoping for change by imagining our problems away. Very few of us are actually serious enough to take these to another level: most just stay with the feel good factor that sweeping things under the proverbial carpet usually brings with it. “Delusional development is the futile hope that you will get better at something just because you want to,” says Tasha Eurich in her book, Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom-Line Results, and the Power to Deliver Both.

Lies are a worldwide phenomenon. We learn to lie very soon and it becomes part of our behaviour by the time we’re two years old. Those are the easily see through-able “cute lies” that adults smile indulgently and laugh about. By the age of four, we have learnt to tell more credible lies, and at seven we have progressed on to more believable and convincing “tertiary lies”. By then, some are well versed in the art of rationalisation, a process that basically is lying to ourselves, inventing plausible excuses to justify what we do. J. H. Newman famously said, “It is impossible to deceive others, for any long time, without, in a measure, deceiving ourselves.” How much worse can it get than for someone to start believing in their own lies? Self-deceived and happily so!

But, psychologists claim there’s a silver lining! They point out that lying has an advantage in the development of children. It increases creativity as a child needs to figure out imaginary reasons to establish fictitious accounts and live in parallel worlds. It helps them separate fact from fiction. From this perspective, lying is just another developmental milestone for the complex cognitive skills we need to navigate this world we are in! In fact, some even argue that those lying early in life turn out cleverer. A fact that Jesus was well aware of: “the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Better liars?

It all depends on our framework of reference, of course. The spies ensconced in Rahab’s loft must have been grateful for the convincing lies that rolled off her tongue. Jews in Nazi Germany deeply indebted to people like Corrie Ten Boom who hid them to escape sure death in concentration camps. David pretended to be insane to save his life from Achish, king of Gath. A few examples of good people who had to lie to escape oppressive regimes, sure death from evil men, or to save others in such predicaments.