Overview:

Despite our innate sense of truth, we are constantly lying to ourselves about everything.

Here are some of those lies.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As humans, we are “mediocre” at identifying when someone is lying. Professional lie detectors, like police officers, do not perform better. However, they believe they do, possibly due to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The worst lies, however, are the ones we tell ourselves. Here are some of them.

“I’m a good and loyal friend.”

You’re about as loyal as everyone else. 

Friends are people you get along with, for whatever reasons. At some point, one of these people might annoy you so much (or allow the friendship to fall into such a state of disrepair) that you have to “defriend” him. And then you stop getting along with them. So you’re a good and loyal friend until you decide you’re not. The only difference is in the criteria we choose. No doubt you feel that your criteria are superior to mine but it’s subjective.

Think of all the people you used to be friends with and you’re not anymore. How did that happen? Don’t bother answering; we’re all in the same boat. 

“In 1930s Germany, I would have spoken up.”

The Milgram study demonstrated that people will hurt other people when directed by an authority figure at a rate of around 65%.

I can promise you that wherever you are, there is some injustice happening. Someone is being treated badly. Maybe it’s refugees, indigenous minorities, Muslims, atheists, Jews, black people, Christians, women or someone else. 

And now you know how it happens.

Some group of people you’re not a part of is being horribly mistreated. You’re in that situation right now. Whatever you’re doing right now to help those people, that’s what you would have done. 

And now you know how it happens.

“There’s no other way.”

There’s always another way. You might not like it and there may be obstacles but there’s always another way.

“Both sides.”

Are you taking criticism but don’t feel capable of addressing the issues? Why not try “both sides”? Would you like to position your emotion-based opinions on the same field as someone else’s fact-based lived experience? Why not try “both sides”?

Do you want to advertise that you’ve found a way to be proud of putting zero effort into understanding any of the issues? Why not try “both sides”?

Do you want to promote the status quo by chilling public discourse? Why not try “both sides”? Do you want to discourage people already wary of politics from getting involved in issues they care about? Why not try “both sides”?

Yes, there are two sides to every story but most of the time, one side is the problem. Yes, it takes two to tango but someone always leads. The easy solution is to pay attention to what actually happened and not how you feel about it.

This faux-balanced narrative is not just demonstrably incorrect. It actively damages the public discourse. Smart people mistake it for nuance and stupid people mistake it for thinking. It’s intellectually lazy and political illiterate.

As Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said, “Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

“I’d be happy if I just had…”

No, you wouldn’t. If you had that love interest / dream job / 44″ plasma-screen TV, you’d just want something else. 

The key to happiness is to find ways to be grateful for your current circumstances. Aim for more but accept your reality. Buddhists understood this centuries years ago. However, it’s an uphill struggle when we’ve been hard-wired in the opposite direction by evolution reinforced by rampant capitalism. 

You get better at what you practice. The “wanting” monster lives in your head and the more you feed it, the stronger it will get.

“I would never normally do this. I’m not that sort of person.”

Who cares what sort of person you are? Who cares what you would normally do? Your actions tell us how to engage with you, not your verbal assurances.

We are not defined by our stupid opinions.

Furthermore, there’s no such thing as “that sort of person”. Human personalities are infinitely more complicated and nuanced than “that sort of person”.

“I’m not racist.”

It’s possible, but I doubt it. I suspect everyone has some sort of preconceived ideas about some people based on race or heritage or appearance. The real danger is if you fall into the following logic trap: 

  1. Racism is bad.
  2. I am not a bad person.
  3. Therefore, I am not racist.

Maybe racism is an evolved survival skill. We have been told that racism is taught but there are strong evolutionary instincts to prefer the home team. 

No one is above evolution. We all think stupid things sometimes. However, we are not defined by our stupid opinions. We are how we choose to act.

Just don’t lie to yourself about it.

“I’m a good judge of character.”

No, you’re not. First of all, as explained above, none of us is particularly good at spotting mendacity. Secondly, also as explained above, no one’s character is immutable. People change all the time for all sorts of reasons. If you’ve only ever known me in the afternoon and through some unfortunate series of circumstances you meet me some morning, you will be forced to question all your life choices.

“I’m a better driver than most people.”

No, you’re not. 

You take unnecessary risks, sometimes you drive too fast and you don’t consider other road users enough. If you get into an accident, there’s a solid chance that it will be your fault.

Keep your eyes on the road and quit fiddling with your phone.

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Barry Purcell lives in Ireland and writes about religion, philosophy, psychology, politics and language for a variety of paper and online publications. He has been involved in campaigns to counteract the...