Mail Bag: What Is Something That Is an Instant Deal Breaker for You?

Joshua,

What is a trait or behavior that is an instant deal breaker for you or that can cause you to reevaluate a person negatively?

[Redacted]

For better or worse, each of us is influenced to some degree by our childhoods.  No matter how much you change, no matter how far you travel or how differently your own life turns out, some elements remain a part of the fabric that makes you who you are.  I’m no exception.

If you’ve been around the blog for a few years, you know I grew up in small town America, in an insular bubble within which protestant Christianity was ingrained in the fabric of our day-to-day experience; Christian school, twice-a-week Church, nightly Bible readings, Christian movies, Christian sermons-on-tape that constantly played throughout the house, office, and car, Christian music, prayer before every meal, prayer before going to bed every night, prayer before we left for class in the morning, tithing 10% of your income, Christenings, Baptisms.  My parents were (and are) devout in every sense of the word.  They believe that God entrusted their children to them; that their obligation to Him was to prepare us for life as best they knew how and in a way that would honor Him so we walked around as representatives of Heaven itself, our conduct being a testimony to those we didn’t even know were watching.

In my parents’ home, for the oldest three children (given the age difference, we effectively grew up in a different household than our youngest sister) there was one rule that superseded all other rules.  It’d go so far as to say it was THE rule.  In other areas, you could negotiate or compromise.  Not here.  It was not to be violated under any circumstance save life or death necessity, even if it led to personal ruin or the end of relationships.  It was absolute in its tyranny and the consequences severe if violated.  You could fail a class.  You could destroy a car in a wreck.  You could get fired from a job.  As long as you learned the lesson from it, they may not be happy about it, and would try to get you to understand what you did wrong, but there wasn’t punishment in the traditional sense because they considered it part of growing up and learning how to be an adult; how to deal with the ramifications of your choices.  If you broke this rule, though, all bets were off.

The rule: Do not lie.

You do not lie for social lubrication.  You do not lie to make someone feel better.  You do not lie to avoid conflict.  You do not lie for the sake of efficiency.  You do not give false compliments.  You do not say something you don’t mean.  In all things, at all times unless it will lead to death or a potentially catastrophic outcome (something that will rarely, if ever, happen in your life if you are setting the bar high enough), be truthful.  “There is no such thing as a white lie” my mother used to remind us.  When you lie to someone, even with good intentions, you are treating them with a lack of respect; as if you don’t think they are good enough or capable enough to handle your honest opinion.  You are failing to respect yourself by thinking your opinion isn’t worthy of being heard.  It allows you to be lazy to avoid dealing with things that need to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

It was tied to a broader lesson on integrity, which is my dad’s most cherished issue.  He drilled it into us constantly that we should make active choices in life and then own those choices even if they turn out to be a mistake.  If you’re going to do something, you should have the conviction and respect for yourself to acknowledge that you are doing it, to accept the consequences, and make no apologies for your behavior unless you genuinely wish you would have changed your conduct upon retrospection or reflection.

All of this was wrapped up in theology; part and parcel, largely inseparable from scripture.  “You shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie to one another”, Leviticus 19:11.  “I hate and abhor lying: but your law do I love.” Psalms 119:163.  “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but they that deal truly are his delight.”  Proverbs 12:22.  “A righteous man hates lying, but a wicked man is loathsome and comes to shame.”  Proverbs 13:5.  “A faithful witness will not lie but a false witness will utter lies.”  Proverbs 14:5.  “Excellent speech becomes not a fool much less do lying lips a prince.”  Proverbs 17:7.  “Let no corrupt speech proceed from your mouth but that which is good and edifying that it may minister grace to those who hear it”, Ephesians 4:29.  “Do not lie to one another seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds”, Colossians 3:9.  “You shall not bear false witness”, repeated in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.  Even acts of lying; e.g., “The Lord hates false scales, but he loves accurate weights.”, Proverbs 11:1.

Along with this, we were also taught that we had a right to our personal space, including privacy.  It’s okay to say, “It’s none of your business,” or refuse to comment.  It is not your obligation to correct the idle gossip, misunderstandings, assumptions, mistakes, or erroneous conclusions of others provided you aren’t actively encouraging them (e.g., the Berkshire Hathaway policy of refusing to address rumors or correct statements others have made which aren’t accurate under the theory if you start that practice, later on, silence becomes confirmation).  If anything, information asymmetry can sometimes work heavily in your favor.  It’s also okay to legitimately change your mind if additional information becomes available or you’ve had a chance to reflect on something.  “You do you” can best sum up the philosophy.  If that bothers or offends people, too bad.  You cannot live your life held hostage to their emotions.  You have a right to arrange your life how you want as long as you aren’t harming others.

As we grew older, particularly in our twenties, we learned to couple this truthfulness with political sophistication; to mix kindness and humor with total honesty so it wasn’t offensive (anyone who tells you that always being truthful requires being mean-spirited or acting like a jerk is either looking for a justification to be cruel or they are not particularly bright).  People respond to the spirit and tone of your words just as much as they do the content of them.  It was a bumpy road sometimes, especially when we each went out into the world on our own leaving the safety of the nest but that’s part of growing up and becoming an adult.

I didn’t realize until the past few years how radical – truly, radical in its total departure from cultural norms – our upbringing was in this regard; that people lie all the time about the smallest, most insignificant things.  Realizing how frequently people do it was a hard thing for me to internalize to the point it caused emotional pain because I didn’t want to believe it.

Even though I understand the arguments from evolutionary psychology – a field that requires you take the theories with more than a few grains of salt compared to the harder sciences as much of it is still glorified guesswork compare to something like physics or chemistry – stating deception was an adaptive advantage that allowed greater survival under certain circumstances, and know that the only reason I feel this way is because I was brought up with the luxury of an environment where we weren’t punished for telling the truth (e.g., how would I feel if I had a parent that burned me with cigarettes if I did something wrong and admitted it?), I still sometimes have a hard time internally accepting that people can behave this way even though evidence has demonstrated it time and time again: There are a not-insignificant percentage of people who lie simply because they can.  They lie so frequently, they don’t even realize they are doing it.  To them, it’s like breathing air.

You’ve seen it.

They are sitting in a restaurant and answer their phone, “Oh, sorry, can’t talk right now because I’m in traffic”.

They were sneaking out for a break and when you ask where they were, “Coming back from the restroom”.

They compliment someone on their outfit then talk about how terrible it was when they are out of earshot.

They applaud someone’s work rather than their work ethic when a lot of time went into an end product that is clearly subpar.

They praise a dish when they didn’t like the flavors or execution.

They tell you they like a perfume when they can’t stand it.

When I witness it in someone, even if it is intended to be polite or inconsequential, it is as if an impenetrable metal wall instantly slams up in my heart and my head like some scene in a Science Fiction movie when the alarms are sounded.  They’re most likely never getting in because I can’t trust them.  I may dine with them.  I make joke with them.  I may be friendly with them.  They’re never entering my internal orbit.  Aside from losing respect for them, I can’t help but feel that they are effectively saying, “I don’t trust or respect you enough to be honest with you.  I don’t value myself to stand up for my opinion.  I’m not clever or intelligent enough to be honest in a way that won’t offend you so I’m taking the lazy way out of this.”  It is visceral; something that happens in the deepest core of who I am.  Even if I inclined to change it, I’m not sure I could overcome the response.  My parents managed to get it in the BIOS.

I even find harmless lying repulsive despite knowing most people give it no thought, rather turning it into a click-whirr thing.  Case in point: Earlier tonight, there was a series of comments on Reddit with thousands of aggregate upvotes about how the only acceptable answer to if someone asks, “How are you?” is “Fine”, even if you have been mauled by a tiger.  That’s nonsense.  It is as if it genuinely doesn’t occur to people you can either communicate your honest answer without giving a speech (“Great!”, “Tired”, “Trying to make it through the day”, “Relieved”) or dodge the question entirely with a, “Nice to see you” or even a non-sequitur (most people won’t notice) such as, “Looking forward to seeing the new Bond movie.”  Lying cheapens you.  It’s lazy.  By not going on autopilot, you also practice your political skills, your mental adeptness, and a host of other things tied to social interaction.  Do not lie.  Refuse to do it.  Be better.  Choose better.

The crazy thing is, people who are addicted to this sort of casual lying, who do it without even consciously thinking about it, often believe that everybody else is lying, too.  It’s as if it doesn’t occur to them it’s a choice and they don’t have to do it.  It’s bizarre.

(On a related note, if you want people to be honest with you, you have to create an atmosphere that makes it possible.  People respond to incentives and if you make them uncomfortable, or attack them, whenever they say something you don’t like, you’re only harming yourself in the long-run.  If you ask for someone’s opinion on something, and they give it in a genuine way, don’t react negatively if you don’t like it.  They are giving you a gift; a different set of eyes and experiences through which you can evaluate something before deciding whether or not you want to discard it or adapt it in whole or part.  In some cases, it may simply be a matter of “de gustibus non est disputandum” and all of that, which is perfectly fine.  Not everything is everyone’s cup of tea.  You may decide they are wrong or that you don’t want to modify whatever it is you asked about in the first place, which is your prerogative.)

Of course, as with all things in life, there is a downside: When you adapt this, making the choice to lie becomes almost unbearable because it’s a willful violation of your dearest principles.  You remember each transgression.  Even when it’s justified by an analysis of the facts, it doesn’t sit quite right.  In my own case, I’ve lied only a handful of times in my life (I really don’t think those of you who didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist religious environment can fathom how ingrained some of these lessons were in every facet of daily experience – the stories I could tell about how my parents hammered it in even in unexpected ways) and virtually every one of them was to protect Aaron and myself before people knew we were together; a conscious, calculated decision to guard against outcomes that could have destroyed us during a period when the country was much more hostile.  Even knowing that if I went back in time, I’d likely have to make the same choice again to protect us as we amassed assets and cash generators – the world was a very, very different place.  You already know that when we went off to college, our relationship was literally a crime in 13 states, including part of Missouri, that could have resulted in jail time and/or fines because the Supreme Court had not yet handed down Lawrence v. Texas and something like the Obergefell decision wasn’t even a thing you could allow yourself to hope. – I hate that it happened.  I absolutely hate it.  However, I made a choice and have to live with that choice.  It was rational.  It was optimal.  It was necessary.  It still wasn’t right.  It will most likely always bother me.  It’s something I accept.

If any of you are members of the casual lying club, I want you to do something for me.  Seriously, I want you to try this.  Right now, decide that you are no longer going to lie.  Make a choice that you will not say anything that is not true, no matter how tiny it is.  Whenever you catch yourself doing it, immediately apologize on the spot and say, “I just lied to you because ______ [insert honest reason why you lied]. Here’s what I should’ve said _____.”  (Don’t give yourself an out on this because the disutility of the social shame can make adapting the new habit a lot easier.)  Keep track of each day you get through without lying, even once, and mark it off on a calendar.  Your objective is to avoid “breaking the chain” – to never have a day where you fail to get another link the long line of “X”‘s you’ve made.

It may be painful at first but it can substantially improve your life in the long-run.  You never have to keep track of your story.  You never have to worry about someone discovering you’ve deceived them.  You learn to think more quickly and be more diplomatic.  You also get two other dividends: 1. You eliminate a lot of low-quality people from your life because the fact you won’t cover for their bad behavior or look the other way makes them avoid you like the plague.  2. You attract a lot of high-quality people of integrity into your life.  It’s a better, less stressful way to live.

But, yeah … the lying thing, I don’t like it.  At all.  If I were working with someone, even if they were great at their job and I otherwise thought highly of them, it’d be extremely difficult for me to ever put any trust in them if I saw them engaging in casual lying, no matter how small.  If you’re going to lie about something so insignificant, how can I believe in your integrity on the big stuff?  You’ve already demonstrated your threshold for deception is practically non-existent.  I realize it’s weird.  I realize that almost nobody else seems bothered by it.  Perhaps it’s even a bit of an unfair standard since the behavior is so ubiquitous but it’s certainly served me well as a screening tool.

Another thing is how people treat those who they think are beneath them, such as talking down to a waiter, salesperson or janitor.  If someone is earning an honest living, doing good work, and you think they are somehow beneath you because you make more money, I’m probably never going to be able to overlook it because it strikes me as a deep, perhaps even intractable, character flaw.  You’re going to eat the food they bring you and enjoy the clean facilities they provide then think they are somehow less than you?  No.  It’s an instantaneous aversion.  Then again, my parents and the religious upbringing were responsible for this, too.  “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to to the least of my brethren, you did it to Me.”, Matthew 25:40.  “… God is no respecter of persons”, Acts 10:34.  If God Himself weren’t making a distinction between the Chairman of the Board and the immigrant scrubbing the toilet, seeing them both as equal in His eyes, who were we to behave differently?

It’s funny … the stuff that stays with you; the things you don’t even fully realize how much they become a part of who you are and how you see the world.

  • FratMan

    I would change the suggested line ““I just lied to you and I don’t know why I did it. I’m sorry.” Most likely, a liar does know why he told the lie, even if it wasn’t especially deliberate. Saying “I don’t know why I did it” could just be a social lubricant phrase. It could be a click whirl response not to offend, to appear competent, or use generic buzzwords that serve as social lubricants. Instead, say: “No, that’s not right. Actually the truth is _________” or if you are somewhat wedded to the word choice, something like “I just lied to you and I’m trying to improve my character. Sorry about that. I mean to say that ______.” Or, if you truly want to cull the behavior quickly, “I just lied to you because ______ [insert honest reason why you lied]. Here’s what I should’ve said _____.”

    I think people underestimate the fact, or actively forget, that they don’t have to respond to everything. I’ve seen people post highly invasive questions on Facebook only to trigger a highly confrontational response. Perhaps the confrontation was honest, but it was not optimal. It could have been ignored easily. Just because someone asks you something–especially online–does not require a moral obligation to respond. I’ve also seen people share really personal things on Facebook that don’t need to be shared publicly just because someone asked it–the response is honest, but not necessary.

    That said, it is surprising how dogged some people can be in asking specific questions. I’ve often tried to dodge questions by making a joke, and after two jokes, it’s weird when the person persists and asks a third time. Especially when it is someone who is a superior in some way to you. What’s the most socially graceful way to honestly respond to someone that persists in asking you a question repeatedly?

    • If subtlety doesn’t do the job, just put up a boundary, which is not a dishonest thing to do. For example, if someone asks your age out of nosiness, just say “I don’t tell people my age.”

      • Joshua made an excellent point. I forgot the “because” part. In the book influence, there’s a section that says when you include a “because” studies show a 93% compliance rate.

        • Blue Angel

          Hmm I’ll be reading this and re reading this for months as opinions thoughts emotions and beliefs all crowd the brsin, the soul the heart the mind and.. yup even the body…I can relate to most. Understand some, and am drowning in many others.. so I’ll say for now –you’ve made me pause, thinking, feeling this topic. That in and if itself is a feat for such an gnats breath of an attention span here. I paused. I reflect. I’ve reviewed my own life in light of these words so very soundly posted. ■ I was raised with a dual sword. Faith , honor.. respect. And brutality. I’m sure I told lies to survive as I’m sure those lies haunted me yrs ago. But no more. For me. It is quintessential love to tell the truth as kindly and with as much grace as possible. This is not a character trait adored by the masses. It’s nearly crushed me to death, truth is a taskmaster – a fine wire for the tightrope walker so to speak. And if given in sweetness is a balm of healing. I strive to remain true to truth and kindness. To bind them round my neck as it were. To be good. Do I succeed, yes iften. Is it appreciated, not as often. Is it reciprocated, hardly. Yes–you see that slippery slope, eh. ■ all I can do then, is hope in love. Be of good cheer and wipe the dust off my sandals when it’s time to walk.
          Thank you for this cloud to fstham, this pillar of fire to follow. This moment of growth. God bless

    • 1. You’re right. The more I think about it, changing that passage is a great suggestion because your refinement is better than what I had. I like the last version so much – it would cut right into the heart of it very quickly and I doubt many people would want to go through it more than a few times – I’ll go with it. I appreciate you taking the time to share that. I’ll publish the new update momentarily so it should be visible as soon as the cache clears.

      2. I think this is a huge part of it. Being honest does not mean walking into a room and having verbal diarrhea, saying whatever you want whenever you desires. It also means accepting that, sometimes, your opinion doesn’t even matter (if you weren’t asked, and it isn’t helpful, there is often little point in saying something). It means a commitment to speaking the truth. It can be done kindly. It can be done humorously. It can be done helpfully. I keep my mouth shut a vast majority of the time; an exception being when a substantive moral or civil rights issue is involved because there are a few situations in which failure to act or speak up is tacitly siding with the oppressor and the issue is of sufficient importance I think there should be no ambiguity about where I stand (e.g., I don’t think it’s morally acceptable to remain a member of a club, school, or organization that discriminates. I think the moral courage it took for people like Warren Buffett to resign from social groups when they excluded Jews due to his gratitude to Ben Graham, standing in solidarity with him, was one of the things that made him so appealing as a role model for me growing up). I tend to take it a bit further, too. If I were sitting around with a group of people and someone made a statement, “Joshua is buying shares of [XYZ] right now” or “Joshua is moving to Nepal next year”, even if I weren’t, I’m not inclined to respond or acknowledge it because, again, if I start doing that, it becomes clear in the future when I issue a “no comment” that it’s confirmation. If someone asks me, “Is that true?”, unless I’m inclined to say yes or no in that moment for whatever reason, I’ll most likely say, “No comment” or stay silent. I won’t be goaded into a conversation or revealing more than I want revealed.

      3. There’s no hard and fast rule, at this point it’s like a boxer doing footwork. Each situation is different, each person unique. It’s like the Dolly Parton thing in the case study – she could extricate herself from situation where men were throwing themselves at her without alienating them by knowing what to say to that person in that moment. Practice makes perfect. The nature of the response to shut down the question depends on the spirit of the question. In a lot of cases @disqus_aL1FHBzgGX:disqus ‘s approach is highly effective – draw the boundary so there is no ambiguity you aren’t crossing it. It’s a bit of an art to avoid inciting additional curiosity but I’ve found you can largely sidestep that with reason respecting tendency (e.g., “I don’t do this because [justification or reason here]”). Even if they think it’s silly people tend to show a lot more respect if you reveal your line of thinking to them. (Of course, you know this and demonstrate it in the proposed wording change from the first thing we discussed so this is an unnecessary repetition on my part.) It’s like a bespoke suit; each response has to be tailored in that moment to the person based on all the clues their giving off. It happens so rapidly when you do it regularly you don’t even fully realizing you’re doing it. Sort of like, up until the moment you read this sentence you weren’t aware you were breathing but now you can sense the air going in and out of your lungs.

      • FratMan

        1. When you say that you’d close off someone that lies from your inner circle and immediately lose respect for them, it is permanent? One strike and you’re out if the matter is of meaningful importance? Based on your post, it seems your only remedy is a near complete and permanent ban. Am I understanding your post correctly?

        When I read “Damn Right”, one of the few aspects of Charlie Munger’s philosophy I disagree with is this–the lack of willingness to give second chances. I’m basing this on the comment from his son–Charles Jr. I think?–that if his dad had a bad experience in a restaurant or town, he wouldn’t give it another shot.

        It is a way to behave that comes with many benefits, as the jewels missed out on will pale when compared to the mediocrity avoided.

        Still, there is a reason why societies have statutes of limitations. It’s not just quality of evidence concerns; there is also a point where you must stop dwelling on the past and move on. There is even a biblical point at which a curse ends.

        There should be some point where you stop judging someone for something previously done and reassess them. How do think about a reassessment point? Does it depend on whether or not there is a public acknowledgement of wrongs? What if someone is a chronic liar, doesn’t ever own it or apologize for it, and becomes a delightful and non-lying person for the remaining fifty years of his life? If you crossed paths with such a person again, would you grant a second chance or are you wedded to what you saw that person do earlier in life?

        2. When you say that you won’t support an institution that discriminates, do you allow for pragmatism? I am familiar with areas in which the public schools are subpar, the leading schools practice race-based affirmative action, and the ones that don’t practice race-based affirmative action instead have a culture of anti-black bias. You either send your kid to a bad school, practice the socially acceptable form of discrimination, or practice the socially disrespected form of discrimination. Those are your leading options. Or, do you send your kid to public school and augment the education, home school, or move somewhere else?

        That’s why I ask about the pragmatism. I also recognize that discussing racial issues in public can have unwanted consequences (see what is going on with the Sam’s CEO right now) so feel free to text me your response if you’re inclined to respond and prefer to keep it private.

        • 1. It’s more of a subconscious, instantaneous aversion. I’m not walking around keeping score in my head, it’s more of a general feeling. If, for whatever reason, I were around someone for a long time and they conducted themselves with integrity, I imagine it would fade away as they’ve demonstrated their character is now improved. In my own experience, casual lying is such an ingrained, non-examined behavior that I don’t know if I’ve ever really seen it happen because the people are so used to it that, at times, it looks like they have no awareness or guilt about doing it. It’s like a reflex to them. “Potential uncomfortable situation = Insert lie here”. It’s bizarre because it’s one of the only shortcomings that people seem to actively defend; a habit so deep that they take it as an attack if you criticize it.

          As for bad experiences, unless it happened to be truly horrific, I tend to give places second, third, even fourth chances if there is indication there is reason to do so; a management change, an ownership change, a physical makeover that might be indicative of other modifications.

          2. It’s funny you ask this because I’ve been thinking about it a lot for the last few months; about race in college admissions, gender in social obligations such as the draft, sexual orientation in financial assistance such as offering targeted scholarships. I have thousands and thousands of words written in working essays as I try to refine my opinion and position on it, some of which go back at least a year.

          I was thinking about it last night, as a matter of fact. Aaron and I were asked to attend a Christmas Concert for some friends of ours who were in a community chorus. We went, paid the $36 for our tickets, and sat down. Only, the venue they booked for the performance was a Catholic church. Unless they donated use of the space (which they may have) there is a very real chance we were transferring money from the Kennon-Green income statement to an organization that has been perhaps the one of, if not the, greatest opponent of equality and civil rights in Western civilization in recent generations no different from the Southern Baptists in the American South in the 1800’s. At one point, the brass band starts playing an arrangement or adaptation of some Salvation Army hymns. The Salvation Army is one of the few mainline charitable organizations I actively will not support under any condition because, contrary to their public marketing as revealed in internal memos that were released, they are outright, lying bigots who say one thing in their internal documents and another in their public marketing. Their policies are ugly and make them no different than the business and country clubs that banned Jews back in the 1960’s.

          So, here I am, sitting there listening to Christmas music, gifting money to support our friends and the arts, knowing that there is a high probability some of it is going, directly or indirectly, to organizations that continue to unleash profound evil on the world; to do real harm, to real people, in tangible ways as the patterns of the past are repeated with a different target group. It was subsidizing immorality. Had I known ahead of time the details, I probably wouldn’t have attended and, instead, made a direct cash donation to the choir.

          It upset me a lot. On one hand, I want to support the community arts. On the other, I cannot engage in immoral behavior to do it, and supporting these groups in their present form is immoral. I imagine it would feel somewhat akin to a friend of yours asking you to attend a dinner in support of freedom of speech. Only, you show up and you realize the real estate they are using is owned by a radical non-profit made up of social justice warriors who continuously call for, and encourage legislatures, town councils, and voters, to demonize and discriminate against you because you were a “cis-gendered, white, heterosexual man” which, as far as I can tell, is the worst thing you can be in their twisted identity-driven theology. It’s not a good feeling.

          I mean, one of the best schools in my hometown point-blank states on their website that homosexuals are basically evil abominations that should not be tolerated in society or something like that (it’s been a few months since I checked). If a family member sent one of my nieces or nephews to that school, it’d be very, very hard to ever support them, or that particular niece or nephew, simply because of the ordinary human response. Martin Luther King, Jr. had it right. It’s not the words of your enemies that bother you so much as its the silence of your friends.

          On the flip side, you have states like Massachusetts now enacting what amount to restitution for gay people by guaranteeing gay-owned firms get a certain minimum quota of government contracts, if possible. That means that if you and I each started competing widget factories, I have a fairly substantial unfair advantage against you. Yes, I understand the justification that its meant to undo the serious obstacles I faced that you didn’t – the things that were taken from me, the social barriers I had to navigate, etc. – but there’s something about it that strikes me as profoundly unfair, perpetuating the sort of divides that shouldn’t exist. Equality should mean equality, not preferential treatment. Pragmatically, that reality is a long way off (if you want to be shocked, looked at the percentage of homeless children who are LGBT in the United States). How can a kid like that go to school when their parents kick them out and they can’t even eat? I get it. I do. It still bothers me because, unlike the higher-ups at Twitter that recently forced an executive (I believe it was, I’d have to check) to apologize for saying they would not lower objective standards for the sake of diversity, instead basing everything on nothing but talent and achievement alone, I think the only thing that should matter is performance. I go back and forth, argument and counter-argument. I haven’t solved it yet. It’s one of the handful of areas in our entire lives where Aaron and I tend to lean in different directions. We’ve spent a lot of time discussing and debating the pros and cons. At this point, I have the basics of what I consider fair worked out (I’m heavily leaning toward the idea that individual characteristics should not be permitted in making decisions, but individual circumstances should; e.g., a gay, black kid with a parent making $30 million and a $5 million trust fund of their own should not get preference over a poor, working-three-jobs straight white kid who is helping support his family and going to school at the same time because such an approach equalizes the different types of capital better instead of merely looking at social capital).

          I don’t know … I’m still working through it. The amount of digital ink I’ve spilled on the backend in snippets, drafts, posts, counter-posts, working essays is substantial. I’m not ready to share it, though, because I haven’t settled it in my heart. There are so many ways to tackle it – again, race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status … especially with the Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in the affirmative action case earlier this month.

          Though, I suppose, now that I think about it, I could release one of the working essays and have the community attack it … it’d save me a lot of time and maybe bring up things I haven’t, yet, thought about …

          Give me more time. I don’t know if I’ll finally have it worked out in a week or in five years, but it will come. It’s been on the burner for a long while now and I’m approaching the home stretch but not satisfied with it.

        • Not to mention – due to the way societal power dynamics work, sadly, the recipients of restitution programs rarely end up being the people who were harmed. In fact, they are sometimes the people who benefitted from the old order, too.

  • Chris Hope

    I wouldn’t feel bad about lying about your relationship. Much of our society couldn’t handle the truth about your type of relationship. A certain percentage still can’t handle the truth and wants to react to that truth with hostility and violence.

    As for the little white lies, I guess I’m comfortable with that as it’s so prevalent. I’ve learned to accept the world I live in. I try not to do it myself but I don’t find that it bothers me all that much when others do it. In small doses it’s not a deal breaker for me.

    What really resonates with me is not talking down to the waitress or the janitor. Everyone deserves courtesy and respect.

  • todd

    Joshua, If your behavior toward a person is indicated that you like them but don’t would that not be a lie. If you have a client that says something that is not true in your mind but they believe to be true in there mind is that a lie. Misunderstanding someone could be conceived as a lie when really in is not. I have told my kids to never lie because then you always have to coverup and you sleep better at night. But I have told little white lie to my kids and people for things like how you like my art work dad when I can’t figure it out what it is. If I told them what I think it would crush them and leave them with low self esteem. Don’t you tell your nieces and nephew about Tooth Fairly , Santa Claus and Easter Bunny. I work with a guy who told he kids wright from the start there where no TF, SC and EB. because he thought that when they find out they would not believe in Jesus.

    • If your behavior toward a person is indicated that you like them but don’t would that not be a lie.

      In what way would treating people with kindness, striving to be polite, attempting to remain civil, and generally conducting yourself in a way that is respectful of others be a lie?

      Let me give you an example. Recently, a man passed away in my hometown. He was widely adored, a volunteer firefighter, heavily involved in his church, loved by his family and friends, and generally praised in the community. Unbeknownst to most people, however, he was a thief; an embezzler. He stole money from a former employer and they never pressed charges, opting instead to let him go quietly so he could save face and they could move on from what they considered a serious personal betrayal as they thought of him as a friend. I don’t recall the exact amount he pilfered over the years he had access to the cash but it was not insignificant.

      I have no respect for this man. None. I found him revolting. I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to talk to him or say hello if I saw him in public because I know what his character is really like not the facade he showed the world. To consistently engage in an on-going act of theft from the people who trusted you over an extended period of time so you can live beyond your means … I find him contemptuous. I find it equally contemptuous that his own family was never notified so they have no idea that many of the things he gave them over the years were the result of theft. He never made restitution for what he did. He never confessed publicly to his theft. I heard more than one person aware of the situation say, “Well, maybe Jesus forgave him.” Words are cheap. If he wanted forgiveness, he could have fixed it. He slithered off and who knows what else he did in the time before he died.

      When he passed away, the extended network surrounding him grieved heavily. His children (now grown) were devastated. There were glowing praises written about him. People were talking about how wonderful a man he was. They thought of him as this kind, honest, warm man. Even at one of my own relative’s homes, people were talking about his death and how “good” he was.

      If someone had asked my opinion – his family and friends are grieving – I would have most likely said, “My opinion doesn’t matter”, “No comment”, “It seemed like you loved him a lot”, or simply shrugged. If they had needed me to bake a cake or bring a dish to a memorial service, I would have done it to support them. I’m not obligated to give them an intimate look into my feelings by announcing, “I think he was a crook who swindled many of you. He very well may have been a great father and friend but he was not a man of integrity.” What good would it do? In what way would it edify them?

      I will never lie about my feelings toward this man – I’ll never say I respected him, that I considered him good, or that I think he was some paragon of virtue like others seem to believe – but I am not under some moral obligation to go out of my way, get a bullhorn, and announce to everyone in the tri-state area that he should have been serving a jail sentence had it not been for the kindness of his former employers.

      If you have a client that says something that is not true in your mind but they believe to be true in there mind is that a lie. Misunderstanding someone could be conceived as a lie when really in is not.

      For this reason, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt heavily, sometimes to the point I can come off as naive. Let’s say someone was on the phone with me half an hour before and said, “I’m going to get in the car and go home” but then I run into them at a restaurant, my first thought isn’t that they lied, my first thought is, “Oh, they probably changed their mind.” They didn’t need to call me back and tell me they changed their plans.

      People are also sometimes mistaken. Everybody makes mistakes, misremembers, or commits errors from time to time. It’s human. Those sorts of things don’t bother me.

      But I have told little white lie to my kids and people for things like how you like my art work dad when I can’t figure it out what it is. If I told them what I think it would crush them and leave them with low self esteem.

      This was totally and completely forbidden in my house growing up as a kid. My parents wanted our self-esteem to be deserved, not simply present. My brother still remembers playing a terrible baseball game (he was a catcher) and being upset. He hoped it wasn’t as bad as it felt on the field so he asked my parents, “How did I do?” I don’t remember the exact response but it was something like, “You sucked. It wasn’t a good game. Would you really want us to lie to you?” He laughs about it now and basically says, “Thanks for sugar-coating it mom and dad.” But that objective standard was useful. Plus, it was always dosed in an environment of immeasurable amounts of love. We never doubted we were loved; adored even. My dad made a point of telling each of us he loved as least once a day because his own father was from a generation where that didn’t happen. My mom was like the Grizzly Mom watching over her kids, capable of transforming from a then-housewife into the Incredible Hulk standing over us if someone or something threatened us.

      It taught us to prefer the truth to the false comfort of a lie. If we were wanting to improve our painting, an objective analysis of it was a gift that gave us a chance to spot our weaknesses and work on them. If we wanted to do it simply for enjoyment, and had no desire to get better, that was fine, too, we simply wouldn’t ask their opinion because their opinion didn’t matter. We weren’t doing it for technical proficiency but because we liked passing the time. It kept us from fooling ourselves and understanding our own motivations.

      Even in matters of taste, it taught us to stand by our own opinion; that our opinions were valid if they were a preference and we needed to make no apologies for them. Let me give you an example.

      When I was still in elementary school, my mom decided she was going to change her hairstyle. During our lifetime, she had always been a natural brunette. She decided she wanted a much shorter, not-quite pixie cut and to try going blond. It was going to be a radical change for her (her mom, my grandmother, on the other hand, has had ever hair color and style imaginable under the sun). The salon needed a couple of hours to do it so one of our aunts took us out for an awesome day at the museum. Toward the afternoon when we were going to meet back up with my now-transformed mom, we were having lunch in a little Subway sandwich shop. As we ate our food, our aunt said something like, “Now, remember, when your mom shows up, we don’t want to hurt her feelings so even if you hate her haircut, tell her it looks good.”

      Total and complete panic. My siblings and I exchanged one of those half-second “Oh crap, we’re in trouble” looks kids get when they hit a baseball through a living room window. We were supposed to obey our elders but this violated the rule. We didn’t say anything, if I remember correctly. We finish eating, and my mom meets us in the parking lot.

      We’re standing there, I’m hoping she does ask our opinion … she turns to us. “What do you think of my hair?” We’re all silent for a moment. Then, like a comedy scene, a verbal explosion erupts from the three of us. “We hate it.” “It looks terrible.” “Change it back.” (In retrospect, it probably wasn’t bad, we were young kids and mom looked different, which freaked us out a bit because it was so extreme.) We see our aunt’s face flare in a combination of anger and embarrassment and think, “Oh crap … we’re in for it now.” but before she can say anything, my mom – who has no idea any of this is happening – smiles and looks at us, responding something like, “Thank you for loving me and respecting me enough to give me your honest opinion. I’m on the fence about it and not sure if I will keep it.”

      It reinforced two of their lessons: 1. We have a right to a personal opinion and should make no apologies for it, 2. Don’t ask someone’s opinion if you don’t want an honest answer.

      It was this bizarre combination of rigid standards with unconditional love and support. I can see how, absent the latter variables, it could turn dark quickly and lead to low self-esteem. (Within the last year, Aaron and I watched some movie on Apple TV called “August: Osage County” and Merrill Streep’s character is a raging narcissist who wields truth like a weapon meant to hurt people. The brutality of her “truth tellin'” as she called it in the script was shocking. It was nothing like that. The goal was always to learn to be honest with ourselves so we could become better and achieve what we were capable of achieving.)

      Don’t you tell your nieces and nephew about Tooth Fairly, SantaClaus and Easter Bunny

      No. I wrote a much longer response on this question to another comment from Ang elsewhere in the thread if you want the extended version. The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and Easter Bunny were like Mickey Mouse, Scrooge McDuck, Batman, or any other fictional character to us. Holidays were still a blast for the same reason going to Disneyland was fun or it’s enjoyable to watch old re-runs of Christmas movies about magical snowmen this time of year. When my parents said “Don’t lie”, they really meant, “Don’t lie” unless it was a necessity to save your life or avoid some catastrophic evil.

      Now that I’m grown, it’s actually really comforting. I know that if my parents tell me something, as far as they know and insomuch as they believe it to be true, it’s the truth. I also know they can be somewhat objective. It helps make me, and my siblings, a better person.

      Subsequent personal experience has led me to conclude that there probably is some degree of neurology involved; that there might be some truth in the assertion that some people are born as highly sensitive people; that their brain interprets criticism and input very, very differently than most men and women. My youngest sister does not at all respond in the same way the oldest three do to objective measurements. If the eldest three wrote a book, made a movie, painted a picture, or designed a building and asked for our parents’ inputs, it wouldn’t phase us if they came back and said, “It sucks. You can do better. Here’s what we didn’t like … Here were the good parts … Explain your thinking on this …” We’d evaluate the reasons they gave, decide whether we wanted to incorporate it or not, and most likely end up with a better result because they’re probably right – we probably can do better – or we’d say, “You know? We like it as it is and we stand by it.” My youngest sister? It’d devastate her and gut her self-esteem. They have to use an entirely different vocabulary to get through to her. It’s an interesting conundrum.

      • todd

        Thanks for the lessons.

      • J

        I realize this comment is somewhat untimely, but just wanted to add my two cents. I’d say that much of this debate over lying seems to originate from different approaches to “lying” vs. “deception.” For example, people might ask why exactly a lie told with good intentions (such as a white lie, done out of social politeness) is unacceptable, but an omission / concealment / social misrepresentation of the truth (such as baking a cake for the memorial of a man I despise, out of social politeness), is acceptable.

        In one case, I perform a conscious verbal act of deception in accordance with my intention to achieve a good while causing no direct harm (well, beyond the potential for developing bad lie-telling habits, etc., which is peripheral to the main issue). In the other case, I avoid a conscious verbal act of deception, but I behave in a way that goes against and perhaps even misrepresents my true thoughts and emotions to others, also to achieve a good while causing no direct harm. So the question becomes, “What specific moral difference is there between saying things vs. doing things that you do not think fit with the truth?” As in, do words have a kind of priority or sacredness above behavior as a form of communication? In one you are lying, but in both you are deceiving in order to be polite.

        Overall this seems to get at how much you hold to a Kantian, deontological kind of ethics as opposed to intentionality or utilitarianism, and your choice regarding two distinctions: 1) between intention and deed (is a deed wrong no matter the intention?), and 2) between action and inaction (is a lie worse because it’s a more “active” kind of deception?). A rough analogy for the last distinction might be the classic trolley problem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem). Note the fat man variant in particular. If actively telling a lie is worse than an equally conscious but more passive / roundabout form of deception, is actively pushing a fat man onto the tracks to save five people worse than merely pulling a lever to sacrifice one for five? It feels like a similar distinction.

        Thanks for making such thought-provoking posts. It’s why I continue to check your blog for updates.

        • This is a fantastic comment, which I hope Joshua will come back to.

        • My answer would be that it’s an inaccurate distinction which invalidates the ethical dilemma as presented. For example, the situation you gave – baking a cake for the memorial of a man you despise – isn’t omission, concealment, or social misrepresentation of the truth in the sense it seems to be framed in your statement because it presupposes intent to indicate support for the dead. Consider that a person might do such a thing for a myriad of alternative reasons, none of which were meant to communicate something that wasn’t true:

          1. He or she may be honoring a tradition out of respect for life and death the same way people engage in other ritual behaviors like hanging stockings at Christmas or stopping and giving a moment of silence when standing before a war memorial. It’s possible to grieve the loss of life even if you didn’t think that life was worth anything.

          2. He or she may be there to show support to the surviving family members, who are good people and worthy of respect and love.

          3. He or she may be volunteering to take the burden off of someone about whom they care, in which case, the cake isn’t for the dead guy at all.

          4. He or she may be a part of the church or club that is providing the real estate or services for the event as part of a belief in impartially serving the community regardless of personal considerations.

          Similarly, imagine you are in the military. Your commander is scum; a horrible, godawful excuse for a person. He’s killed in a rescue mission in Afghanistan. During the funeral, you still salute. You still proceed with ceremony honoring him. It’s entirely possible to participate in such an event not because you respected him but because you respected the position he occupied, the task he was doing, and the role he played. It’s comparable to how you can dislike any given President but you should still respect the Presidency; its history, what it represents.

          The idea that the person in any given room who is willing to make the largest non-supported assumption has power to force a moral obligation on the principal actor in any of these scenarios – which is the effective outcome of such a moral distinction were it exist – strikes me as absurd and entirely non-workable; you couldn’t do it if you wanted. Where would such a standard of morality end? When you leave a room because you think you might have food poisoning, do you need to stand on a chair and say, “I’m not making an early exit just in case any of you were assuming it, I have to find a toilet as soon as possible”? When you are out to dinner with a work colleague, do you need to pull out a bullhorn and announce to everyone in the restaurant, in the off-chance one of them recognizes you, “I am not cheating on my wife, I am here to discuss a potential strategic partnership with a vendor. I don’t want any of you to be under the impression I’m on a date”?

          However, going further, I think there could be a situation in which the heart of your question applied; in which you engaged in action that you knew to be deceptive but through which you didn’t outright lie, causing another person’s irrationality or assumptions to foil them. Then, the issues you bring up are certainly applicable.

          For example, let’s imagine you are made CEO of a company. You have a competitor who is always trying to emulate what you do. You decide to leak a fake product line for the upcoming year, in addition to engaging in other behaviors designed to serve as a deflection to the real products you are going to unveil, which are being developed in a secret warehouse. You haven’t overtly lied, but you know their own assumptions will cause them to believe something that is false and, accordingly, act on that information, possibly to their own detriment.

          That’s tricky. On one hand, you could argue that you aren’t responsible for other peoples’ cognition. This is a game of strategy, they knew that going in, they are choosing to poach your work, they are choosing to act on assumptions garnered solely because they were attempting to cheat by spying on you, and you have no obligation to save them from themselves. On the other, you can argue that you are lying through actions not words by purposely engaging in behavior intended to deceive. However, if the latter is the path towards which you lean, does the fact that you are staving off a threat matter? If you answer “No”, is building a safe room into a house that looks like any other room to non-informed observers indicate deceptive immorality? Yes, it’s a deception but it’s only meant to be used to save you from material harm. What about adding bullet-proof glass to a car? What about an old person who fears banks hiding money in a fake book. Should he or she have to announce whenever someone comes into their living room, “Now … that’s not real. That’s where I hide my money.”? The fake book is designed to deceive. Is the CEO behaving any differently in protecting his shareholders?

          Those are interesting questions; certainly worth thinking about more.

          As for the earlier discussion, things like the funeral attendance, personally, I fall into the camp that believes – and I’m being serious here despite it sounding tongue-in-cheek (I’ll take wisdom wherever I can find it) – that Supermodel of the World RuPaul and his late mother said it best: “If they aren’t paying your bills, pay them bitches no mind” and “It is none of your business what someone else’s opinion of you is”. In other words: You do you. Act with integrity, be honest, and don’t explain or apologize to people to whom you owe no explanation or apology. If someone thinks your behavior is deception because you didn’t think them important enough to send a typed memo in advance detailing, in line-by-line form your personal, intimate motivations, it’s fair to say, “I didn’t lie to you, you’re just dumb and narcissistic thinking you’re entitled to know everything about me. Stop assuming things. Stop trying to guess my motivation. Stop focusing on me. Go live your own life. I don’t owe you anything.”

          It strikes me as fair. If I see someone at a funeral, I don’t assume they liked the dead person. If I see someone out with someone who isn’t their spouse, I don’t assume they’re cheating. I generally try not to assume anything because it’s a terrible habit that leads to a lot of potentially bad thinking. Stated another way, I think of it as a probability problem. Whereas there is little doubt as to the ambiguity of an explicit lie, I tend to call no harm/no foul in actions under the belief that I probably don’t know all of the details nor am I entitled to know them unless they feel like sharing.

        • J

          Thank you for the in-depth response. Although I wonder how someone else from a less individualistic, more collectivist-minded moral tradition might respond to this whole discussion, I like your ultimate conclusion.

          As always, hope to see more updates.

  • Ang

    What do you tell your nieces and nephews about Santa, the Easter bunny, tooth fairy, etc.?

    How about more sensitive subjects like health – do you condemn white lies for people who are dying?

    • The same thing we tell them about Overlord Xenu, Emperor Palpatine, and Roger Rabbit. My parents’ didn’t violate their principles in the face of social proof or for the sake of entertainment and neither do any of their children now that they are raising their own kids.

      Holidays were, and are, still awesome, the same way going to Walt Disney World is awesome. We just knew, and the kids know now, that it wasn’t real but, rather, a cultural thing meant to be fun; sort of like Batman. You went to the mall to take a picture with Santa for the same reason you waited in line to get a picture with Mickey Mouse. They were, and are, a time for baking Christmas cookies, dipping pretzels in white chocolate, and making milk chocolate peanut butter balls; for watching old Christmas movies like Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman; to get the decorations out and put up the tree together, filled with handmade ornaments each tied to a special memory.

      It led to some interesting outcomes. One of the clearest memories of my life was tied to this. In third grade, I was seated across from a kid in my elementary school classroom. He was excitedly going on about how Santa was going to bring him gifts. I was absolutely baffled because I couldn’t believe he bought into this nonsense – the idea that a morbidly obese white man with a pack of animals transcends space and time to fly around the country, shove his body down chimneys (many homes not having one) for the purposes of delivering gifts in a way that, cruelly, distributed the best quality and highest quantity presents to the families of wealthy people while leaving nothing for others.

      I had no more gotten, “You can’t seriously believe …” out of my mouth than my teacher – one of the nicest, kindest people I’ve ever met and who had a profound influence on the way I try to live my life (she was this awesome flower-child-hippie-like woman with long hair and dresses who played autoharp and sang us our lessons in song form; I adored her because she just radiated love) – was somehow instantly transported from the blackboard to behind me. She whispered in my ear something like, “Just because we know better doesn’t mean we have to rain on other people’s parade”. It cut through me like an arrow. Almost a quarter-century later, I still remember the feeling, sense her right behind me, see where I was sitting in the room, and realizing, in that moment looking at his face, I can still be truthful without going out of my way to make other people unhappy. Sometimes, people have to be led to the answers to discover them for themselves.

      If he asked me whether I believed in Santa Claus, I could answer, “You need to talk to your parents about this”, “It doesn’t matter what I believe”, “Would it change your opinion?”, “Why do you care what I think?”, or “No”. All were viable options that still let me avoid uttering something false.

      But, no … we were not ever, at any time, under any condition, told that a fat man, a magical bunny, and a flying fairy were real and going to bestow upon us consumer goods and confectionary treats. The same goes for the nieces and nephews now. It’s akin to my niece knowing full well that Elsa and Frozen aren’t real – they are characters developed by a company she owns and that part of the profits make their way back to her brokerage account – but it not stopping her from loving the movie, singing the songs, and enjoying it.

      • Ang

        I see, very interesting. No real disadvantages I can see besides maybe brief moments of feeling like an outcast. Thank you for sharing

        • lauren

          This is similar to the approach I’ve taken with my kids. The “disadvantages” that I’ve found are mostly the reaction that we get from friends and family when the subject comes up– and also the difficulty of explaining the “don’t rain on someone else’s parade” part to very young children.

  • David Evans

    Joshua,

    Thank you for posting this. It’s one of the best things I’ve read all year. And I read a lot.

    Dave

  • vince

    ” the only thing worst than a thief, is a liar” is a phrase that my mother used on a number of occasions, while i was growing up.
    that, and reading aesop’s fable “the ant and the grasshopper” are just a couple of many
    memories that i treasure from my childhood.
    thank you for all your lessons to be learned!

  • Your honesty is why I was drawn to this site in the first place, after finding it in a random Google search. There is so much falsehood out there (it really is literally biblical in its magnitude) that the light of truth is instantly apparent. Even though your writing is so honest it can come across as blunt and sometimes even insensitive (as you’ve said, there’s none of the non-verbal winking and nodding on here), I’ve always known it was coming from a place of integrity.

  • MinchinWeb

    I once had a friend state that “It is not a lie to tell a bureaucrat what he needs to hear to do his job.” I could instantly see the practical aspect of what he was saying, but I’ve never been able to find a way to work though the ethical implications. Joshua, care to offer your thoughts and thinking?

    • You’d need to give me a more concrete example if you wanted me to address how I’d feel about a specific situation. So much of it depends on context. Rose Blumkin lying to a border guard to escape the country and get on a relief boat to America shortly before the Nazis arrive and kill practically every remaining member of her village is clearly justified as moral in my mind, the deception paling in comparison to the catastrophic multi-generational harm to her and her family in the long-run otherwise. He needed to hear whatever she said, even if he did or didn’t believe she was escaping. Saying that a 5/8th” widget was used when a 7/8th” widget, which was more expensive, was required by the regulations is not. What are the specifics?

      Broadly speaking, on a personal note: If I found myself in a position where getting anything done repeatedly required interaction with bureaucrats and deceiving those bureaucrats, even if it happened to be well-intentioned, I’d find a new line of work, try to reform the system, or emigrate. I’m not a fan of conducting my life by trudging through the proverbial sewer when there are so many ethical and honest ways to make a good, even great, living. There are some places in the world where this may be difficult – I think it would be all but impossible in certain parts of Africa at the moment – so it’d come down, again, to the specifics. What are you thinking? What conditions are we talking?

      • MinchinWeb

        The situation was nothing as serious as Rose faced; this arose in a situation much more mundane.

        In specifics, I had a job one summer installing residential security systems. At the end of the install (often late at night), we would have to call in to the corporate call center (the ‘bureaucrat’ in this situation) to get the system activated. The call center would ask a series of questions: Was the system installed? Were you shown these features? Did the installer clean up after himself? Are you happy with the install? The customers could infer what the ‘right’ answer was and if they were happy overall with my work as an installer, they would often reply with it (the ‘right’ answer), even if it wasn’t technically the case.

        Two common examples:
        – it would be close to midnight when I was finishing up and my offer to vacuum would be declined. When asked if I had cleaned up after myself, the customer would say ‘yes.’
        – I would offer to show them the companion phone app to the system, and many of the more technically inclined would decline, figuring they could figure out the app themselves. When asked if I had shown them the app, they would say ‘yes.’

        Discussing this with other installers, we discovered that this was fairly common. So we were trying to decide whether this — giving the ‘right’ answers when the customer feels they’ve been taken care of and determining that seems to be the purpose of the call — was lying. Does this lay out enough specifics for you to comment on this better?

        • If it were me and I were the customer, I probably would have responded:

          “He attempted to but I asked him not to do it as a favor to me. Please give him the highest marks you can since he did what I asked.”
          “He tried but I love technology and didn’t need him to so I made him stop. Please give him the highest marks since he was satisfying the customer.”

          If it were an automated system of some sort where nuance wasn’t possible, I’d either get transferred to a human or, if that wasn’t possible, probably hang up. From a moral perspective, though, you have a problem in the latter case because the technology limitations of the provider are putting you, the customer, into a position where both answers are a lie. If you say “No”, it isn’t accurate because you, the installer, were able, willing, and ready to do the task only I, the person whose satisfaction is being measured, stopped you. To leave a mark on your record showing that you had not done what you were trained to do, and that indicates in some way I am dissatisfied which is not true, is a misrepresentation of reality that could punish you for the very thing the business is attempting to incentive – my happiness. On the other hand, you technically didn’t complete the task but, again, it was because I ordered you not to and this increased my satisfaction, which is being measured.

          When forced into such a binary choice where both options are inaccurate (whether you answer “Yes” or “No” under this scenario, neither is the truth), I’d argue the most moral thing to do would be to give the answer that closest represents the reality of 1.) what happened, 2.) what the call center is attempting to measure, and 3.) my satisfaction level. And/or concurrently, write a letter to a specifically targeted executive at the company explaining how satisfied you were with the installer and dissatisfied with the phone call that followed given the limitations of the system.

      • Anyone who lives in a developed country should be constantly thankful for how blessed they are. It allows you to be a better person if you want. Sadly, many don’t.

  • S

    A couple of passages about lying from my favorite books.
    “I would not snare even an orc with a falsehood” Faramir.
    “The men of the mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived” Eomer
    Joshua, do you find truth in Eomers words?

  • undercover

    I sure remember as a kid hearing the story of the boy who cried wolf.

    A known liar will not have anyone take his word for it anymore, so when he actually speaks the truth no one believes him.

    I also really dislike it when such behavior is socially tolerated in professional sports.

    Perfect example: Major League Soccer.

    http://i.imgur.com/DYjxgRS.gif

  • “the greatest among ye shall be the servant of all”

  • Adam J. Mead

    “They are giving you a gift; a different set of eyes and experiences…” This is such a great way to think about it. You’re effectively leveraging society to benefit yourself (which in turn should benefit society; a positive feedback loop). A sort of synthetic equity of self-improvement.

  • Praetor7

    Very interesting post. Some personal comments:

    1) For an unknown reason, my DNA forbids lying. As opposed to Joshua, it does not come from parental upbringing. It just appeared spontaneously in me. It is intellectually impossible for me to lie. This causes 2 great difficulties in my life: (i) I cannot lie when interacting with other people and therefore encounter problems when interacting socially, and (ii) even though I am intelectually aware that most people lie, it still hurts me deep inside every time that someone lies to me, be it small social lies for social politeness reasons, be it large manipulation-motivated lies.

    2) I have been dealing with major depression for 30 years. When I get asked every day 20 times the question “how are you?”, in all kind of social settings, by people I don’t know who know nothing about me, even though I know that they don’t care about the answer and that they are just saying “hi”, I feel obliged to tell the truth (as always) and answer “very bad”. What’s next? People don’t like my answer, feel surprised, take it as a joke, and when they find out that I am always “very bad”, they just avoid me. People just want positivity, even if it is false and simulated, and avoid the negative. As such, being honest creates great difficulty in my life. The big problem is that if I lie and answer “very good” I feel dishonest both with the other person and me; If I avoid the answer, I don’t feel ok as I feel I am being a jerk with someone who is theoretically being nice by asking a question deserving a proper answer (although I know that 99% of the time they are not being nice but just socially polite, and they are very likely to not care at all about me). But who am I to make assumptions about their level of goodness in spite of what I statistically know is a fact (ie. 99% not caring at all about me)? Of course, I could roundabout the answer as proposed in the post, there are many intelligent ways to do it, but I would not feel good by doing that.

    3) Being unable to lie while everybody else lies causes great difficulty in life, be it when engaging in work relationships, be it when dealing wit leisure time socialisation. You can’t trust anyone. People pretend to be friendly and be interested and generous, but aren’t. It is manipulation. It is dishonesty. It is horrible. After a while, one can longer interact with other people as one becomes totally skeptical about everything one listens to coming from other people. Besides, one cannot progress normally in a career or make acquaintances.

    4) However, I have also found a big upside, which is that people truly trust and appreciate you, without them even noticing the reason, which is your honesty. They know that you never lie and this is a treasure for them. Most of the time, this is a subconscious perception, but it is there, and it builds great trust and robust friendships. If we assume the hypothesis that people are bad and egoist, then we may infer that they know that the rest of people are bad and egoist too, because they assume that others as similar to themselves. Therefore, you won’t encounter any problems if you appear as honestly bad and egoist. They already know that you are that way because they are that way, and will greatly appreciate your honesty. Besides, they will also appreciate the other side, which is your good you. They know that it is 100% for real.

    5) Lastly, a cultural comment. USA’s culture promotes hypocrite kindness. Russian culture promotes honest neutrality (wrongly perceived as jerkness by Americans). Just look at an Obama-Putin meeting. Obama smiling, Putin not smiling. In USA’s culture, not smiling when meeting people is unpolite. In Russian culture, smiling is reserved to people one truly loves and outside of that is considered as an aggression due to its dishonesty (one could get punched in the face for smiling when meeting someone for business for the first time or when asking for an address to a stranger in Saint Petersburg and then thanking him with a smile). If you ask a Russian to describe an American, they will tell you “white teeth”. Americans are perceived by Russians as culturally dishonest. What is best? Due to my unability to lie, Russia seems best to me. Russians are not angry psychopats, as perceived by Americans, when they don’t smile. They are just obeying their culture about 100% honesty with regards to smiling and social interaction. If a Russian smiles to you, you know you are really in his heart, as a family relationship, true friend or lover. Interesting culturally-ingrained honesty. I have received the most hurting, selfish and violently honest comments one could imagine from Russian people. And, in spite of that, I am deeply thankful and appreciate them, because they were not lying and this is a gift.

    • joe pierson

      2) I don’t believe in moral absolutism like Joshua or you do, I believe this is a classic loyalty vs truth situation. In that I mean I view it as a right vs more right decision, as opposed to a right vs wrong decision (or wrong vs more wrong decision). I have chronic health problems too for decades and lie about it all the time to my family and friends (for the reasons you mentioned). My loyalty to them overrides the truth, and I believe I am making an ethically correct decision.

  • TLV

    I’m recovering from Mormonism, and from how you tell it I envy your upbringing. My parents were not fundamentalists, fortunately (as Mormon fundamentalism typically involves polygamy, child brides, and complete isolation from the rest of the world) but were still fairly strict about the religion. Unfortunately, the Mormon culture (including my parents) only gives lip service to integrity, focusing instead on “avoiding the appearance of evil” – i.e. lying to look good. It’s built into the culture and organization at every level – from the president lying when interviewed on a national talk show to the missionaries formally instructed to lie to potential members about the more unsavory aspects of the history and teachings.

    “It’s funny … the stuff that stays with you; the things you don’t even fully realize how much they become a part of who you are and how you see the world.”

    As I’ve slowly transitioned away from Mormonism, this sentiment has certainly applied. I hope as I get some distance that I’ll start (re?)discovering some positive traits amidst all the negative.

  • Shane Benz

    Joshua,

    Thanks once again for a thought engaging post. You are one of the most brilliant writers on the internet, and why I keep coming back to see what you have posted. I rarely disagree, and most of the time get tremendous value, that you gladly give away freely. However, I have to admit I have realized what I perceive to be an internal inconsistency in your thought processes, reading through your many posts.

    I too was raised in a devout Christian home where we had a very similar upbringing, except, add active proselytizing and church (3) times a week to the list. We were also taught that lying was about the worst sin you could commit (although your parents seem to have understood the positive reinforcement side of encouraging the truth better than mine). I was taught valuable things, many of which I still hold to today.

    However, as I grew into an adult, I began to question everything I was ever taught. To examine any dogmatism, and to discard any “truths” that did not stand up to scrutiny. I believe you have written many times about going through similar things in your own life. This is an active process, of which I am still engaged, and many of your own post have helped me to grow in this regard.

    This is where we will diverge: You devote an entire paragraph to quoting biblical verses. I have a hard time reconciling the fact, that in a post touting the efficacy of always telling the truth, you quote from a book with so many inaccuracies, inconsistencies, false statements and what some may find to be outright lies. I realize, at this time, that last sentence may or may not hold any truth for you. I will present one example to validate my claim: I think it is inarguable, that the bible presents homosexuality as morally wrong, as a sin punishable by death or at least eternal damnation once deceased.
    The new testament fails to correct this. However, as you have written about previously, we know this to absolutely and unequivocally FALSE. There is no moral rational, under which we can invalidate the morality of a beautiful
    relationship, such as you have described on this blog, outside of the bible. This in and of itself, along with many other examples I could give, is enough to render a large portion of the bible’s claims false. I should point out that this does
    not in any way prove that God does not exist, only that the bible is either not inspired by him, or God himself does not value the truth the way you have been taught to.

    Here is the real discrepancy: You describe in this post, having witnessed someone telling a lie, an immediate wall going up, and a very real difficulty with pursuing any further relationship with them. How does this not also apply to books you may be reading? Not that the book where this is encountered, should not be read or can’t be learned from, but certainly not
    quoted in a positive light, to validate your argument, whilst missing the irony of this…

    As far as my personal belief on lying, I think most of what you have written above is correct. At the minimum, lying is usually unnecessary, often downright malicious, but… I believe in certain situations, can be morally justified, even outside
    of the confines of life endangerment. As with many moral issues, I don’t think you can place lying firmly within a black and white, right or wrong category. It exist on a vast gray continuum, which is difficult for us humans to deal with.

    This comment has gotten rather long, so I will stop here, thanks for doing what you do, I am a loyal reader!

    • FratMan

      I don’t think Joshua quotes the Bible as a sole authority for why something is right, but instead does it to reach a wider audience and augment his viewpoint by effectively saying: “This post isn’t just for a secular reader, but Christian people have a proper cause to agree as well–the lessons here should have a near universal appeal because the authorities of human rationality and Scripture align.”

    • I have some time to pass before I attend a community Christmas concert so indulge me for a few minutes as I (somewhat) sidestep your question and, instead, examine the underlying foundation of your statement. The thought process interests me. There are three different ways to approach this.

      Approach I

      Inherent in this assertion of inconsistency is an implicit assumption that my present reason for continuing the “no lie” policy is the same as the past reason I was given as a justification by my parents in childhood.

      Given that I don’t state my personal religious beliefs and gave no indication this is the reason for my behavior, isn’t it entirely possible that I didn’t spend a paragraph quoting scripture as a source of morality authority for my present policy, but, rather, merely listed the justifications my siblings and I were given during childhood for the reason we were taught not to lie as nothing more than an accurate, historical, biographical fact?

      Wouldn’t a careful re-reading of the passage indicate that the more likely probability?

      Isn’t it possible that I choose not to lie today because I have made an intellectual, moral choice that I will conduct myself with integrity in a way that embodies the man I want to be and the legacy I want to leave behind for my family, including my own future children and grandchildren; that I will respect myself and others enough to be honest with them so my word is better than currency? That my behavior would not change at all were the Bible to somehow cease to exist tomorrow?

      Wouldn’t that more consistently fit with my repeated entreaties to adopt the John Stuart Mill approach to life, which calls for “… seeing that no scattered participles of important truth are buried and lost in the ruins of exploded error”?

      Would someone adhering to this philosophy throw out a cookbook with a great chocolate cake recipe simply because the recipe for wheat bread was subpar? Why should a religious book that isn’t even a consistent volume but rather a vast collection of multiple scrolls written over thousands of years with dozens of writers in several languages be treated as less useful?

      Is it not, therefore, perfectly consistent to say, “This particular behavior makes sense on its own, without any appeal to authority of the divine, while this other behavior does not?”; to logically adapt the “tell no lies” policy while discarding others, such as the notion that leftover food that has been in storage for more than three days is an unclean abomination (Leviticus 19:7)? For example, we know now that it was an adaptive, superstitious prohibition based on anecdotal experience; a commandment that arose when these ancient, largely illiterate, people wandering through the dessert without electricity, running water, or even a cursory understanding of much of the universe, realized through observation that their friends and neighbors became sick and died when consuming old food. They had no idea bacteria, viruses, and prions even existed. They didn’t have General Electric, Miele, LG, and Samsung manufacturing state-of-the-art refrigerators and freezers to extend the preservation time.

      If a person grew up being taught not to eat three day old non-refrigerated fish due to a moral system that his parents instilled in him (“God said you shall not do this”), but later went off to college where he learned the reasons old food makes you sick, how does it follow that his new, rational, intellectually-based reason for abiding by the same rule (avoid three-day old, non-refrigerated fish) somehow implies an acceptance of the other commandments that his parents taught him – like, say, it’s okay to murder your sister if she loses her virginity before she’s married? Isn’t that an extraordinarily illogical jump based on the earlier error of misunderstanding the reason for his present behavior?

      Is his decision from abstention of spoiled fish, now due to entirely different reasons the one with which he was raised, indicative of an inconsistency in an appreciation for rationality simply because it happened to first be introduced to him with a different justification?

      Let’s leave this aside for a moment as I think the answer is self-evident. Let’s take a different approach, instead.

      Approach II

      Let’s presume for a moment that I were devoutly religious and believed in the divinity of scripture. The only way it would be inconsistent to quote some passages but not others would be if I happened to belong to a very specific, uniquely American (though these days, it’s spread to parts of Asia and Africa) brand of protestant Christianity that believed the whole of the Bible, as bound together in Protestant USA, is perfect and without error. A vast majority of Christians alive in the world today, and throughout history, have not believed this.

      Aren’t you, therefore, assuming I belong to a specific sub-group within Christianity? Otherwise, it would not follow that one passage being discredited would carry over to any other passage because there are many, many denominations that understand the history of the Bible: That it was not some perfect book that was handed to mankind from on high, but rather a conveniently bound collection of translated scrolls penned by different authors at different times leading to questions about the validity of not only certain passages but entire sections. The Catholics and Protestants have different books in the compendiums they call the Bible. The Christian denominations in Ethiopia, too. And the Russians.

      For heaven’s sake, for the first 50 years after its original publication, the King James Bible contained the books of 1st Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Rest of Esther, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremy, Song of the Three Children, Story of Susanna, The Idol Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasses, 1 Maccabees and 2nd Maccabees, all of which have been removed by subsequent editors.

      Other books, like Enoch, were removed by the Church because they believed it contained too much insight into the spirit world and would be dangerous in the hands of the laypeople.

      Meanwhile, the Book of Revelations barely made it in the final cut! A not-insignificant percentage of folks thought it to be the ravings of a lunatic. Parts of it are outright pagan – e.g., the use of “the Lake of Fire” as punishment at the end of the world, which is straight up stolen from another occult religion and is never mentioned anywhere else in scripture. Practically nobody took Revelations seriously until the last 150 years in certain parts of rural, poor Southern and Midwestern United States after a rich farmer developed a theory that involved a rapture, an anti-Christ, and a host of other events that quite literally gave birth to an entirely new division of Christianity that had never before existed.

      This is all common knowledge for students who attend a good seminary, of course. Most freshman theology students can tell you off hand the infamous four errors in the gospels or that Matthew, Mark, and Luke weren’t even written by apostles nor even during the same generation Christ was reportedly on Earth. They know that Satan and Lucifer are entirely different individuals (try telling that to someone who grew up in rural Arkansas and hasn’t, actually, ever studied the originals). You probably know much of this – it’s also one of the reasons that seminary is infamous for turning devout Christians into avowed atheists to the point its considered a professional hazard. If you grew up in poor or middle class, Protestant America and were taught the Bible is inerrant, it can be a harsh awakening to learn that actual history. The point is, it presents no problem for other, older, more mature denominations because they never bought into the second assumption you are making – that fallacy of the composition error that if part of [x] is false then all of [x] must be false.

      Stated differently, would it not be entirely possible that if I were devout – an assumption that still hasn’t been proven – that I happened to subscribe to one of the older, more mature denominational theology systems that does not believe the present English Bible is literally perfect? That would certainly make sense since the errors and inconsistencies are ridiculously high. Could anyone really believe that 1st Kings was written with God’s approval? You’d think the creator of the universe wouldn’t make an elementary mathematical error (see chapter 7 verse 23) by being unable to calculate pi. Furthermore, even an apologetic response (“it’s rounding”) itself introduces sufficient ambiguity to call into question the rigidness elsewhere.

      For someone who falls into this older, more mature belief system within Christianity, the Bible would be akin to me taking Benjamin Graham’s Security Analysis, slapping it together with a few books on day trading, and ending it off with a piece on predicting stock prices through astrology. Does the fact these unique works share a single leather cover somehow cause the nonsense of the latter to invalidate Graham’s writing on applicable tests of safety for railroad bonds? Does quoting the passage that Graham wrote somehow indicate I believe it’s better to buy shares of chemical firms when under the sign of Virgo? Only if I had asserted in the first place the entirety of the work was inerrant which I never did; once again, it requires an assumption about my belief to be true.

      Approach III

      Is it not possible @FratMan:disqus is precisely right; that there is no inconsistency in my own framework and I’m simply an effective writer who knows how to draw parallels across multiple disciplines, religions, and cultures to underscore an important point that has been made many times before in human history? Is it inconsistent for Civil Right leaders and Presidents to talk about “seeing the promise land”, alluding to Moses and the Children of Israel surviving the desert and arriving at better days when they speak on slavery rights, women’s rights, or gay rights, things that were all effectively anathema to much of Christianity’s interpretation of scripture for thousands of years? Or is it a metaphorical device that speaks to people on a deep, cultural level in a shared language they understand?

      • Shane Benz

        Wow, first off, thanks for your well thought out and eloquent reply. As someone I look up to, it is great to hear your reasoned and informed thoughts on the objections I raised. Also, it is not lost on me that this is your blog, and you can write whatever you please…
        I will concede the first fallacy you accuse me of, to some extent. I have been reading the blog for quite some time now, and have heard you reference the bible and your Christian upbringing several times. I can not recall this ever having been in a negative light. I realize this does not represent confirmation of your specific beliefs and you are under no obligation to disclose them. But, I say to some extent, because I carefully never asserted you were in fact a believer, and because your specific beliefs don’t really matter in regards to my argument above.
        The second fallacy you believe to have encountered in my argument, I would wholeheartedly disagree with. I state above that even a work with so many inaccuracies, could still be “learned from”. The claim is not that the entire work is false because some passages are, it’s that some are so egregiously false as to render it useless as a moral guidebook. If I started out this comment by making the claim that the Holocaust was a hoax created just to advance a particular narrative , how much credence would you give to the rest of my statements, even if I eventually made my way to exhorting everyone to treat others as they would like to be treated, or some other wise old saying? You spent a paragraph quoting scripture, one of them from Levitcus Chapter 19, where along with the commandment not to lie, laws are enumerated wherein the weaving of two different materials to form a garment are strictly forbidden. This also happens to be why the ‘many books cobbled together over a long period of time’ argument doesn’t hold water in this specific instance. My argument is that when you are reading a book, in this case a chapter in a specific book, and you come across these moral falsehoods, why would your reaction not be to put up a wall and have trouble accepting much else it had to say, even if factually some of its claims can be independently verified? Leviticus is full of some of the most abhorrent, morally repugnant dictums you will find in all of literature, and yet claims to be a moral guide. There are much better literary works about morality, some of which can be found at this very website! If the response to someone telling a “white lie” is to put up a wall, when you have only seen perhaps a “chapter” or merely a “verse” of their life, and this is morally justifiable, how much credence and light should be given to a work that engages in much worse? In fact, I believe you had this very reaction to a much less holier work by the legendary John Bogle which you reference in a recent post about Vanguard tax fraud allegations.
        Lastly, I realize you have a vast audience, and are writing for all of them. Just know that when a respected, gifted person such as yourself starts quoting biblical scripture, even if you don’t view it as the inerrant word of God, or the definitive statement on a matter, are giving it a level of credence you would not grant the “white liars” (this is not a racial statement) of the world, even though the specific statements you are quoting may be definitively true. But again, your corner of the internet, write whatever you like, I’ll keep tuning in. Thanks.

        • Sorry I misunderstood your second assertion. You’re right that the second response I wrote wouldn’t be adequate nor applicable to that claim, which is different in substance from the one I thought you were making.

          Now that I understand your point, I would have said this:

          There are two paths that could cause a person to approach Leviticus – or any purported scripture from any religion – as a moral guide (not that it would be right, but that it would be intellectually consistent). The first is if they answered the Euthyphro Dilemma in a very specific way. I think it is wholly inadequate, present known conditions, and cannot withstand scrutiny. For example, how can one differentiate between legitimate revealed knowledge and mass delusion, mental illness, or other psychological influences such as social proof?

          (You could, I suppose, get into a Newtonian action/reaction physics/supercomputer argument and counter that if there were an intelligent being with the requisite processing power to know all potential outcomes of the universe, and you were certain of their benevolence, then obeying even if you couldn’t see the outcome justified doing something that appeared immoral on the surface under the knowledge that it was a necessary to serve the greater moral in the end, sort of like killing an innocent bystander during a life-or-death classified military operation that could result in millions of people dying if something goes wrong. That’s way beyond what we are discussing here because it also gets into some game theory issues and strategy in the sense that you’d never be absolutely certain of the benevolence which introduces … complexity.)

          The second is if they see it as a source of ancient wisdom that for a long period of time governed human conduct and so it should at least be given the benefit of the doubt or consideration with each moral commandment having to stand or fail on its own so you aren’t throwing out the baby with the bathwater. That is the approach I take. I don’t think a person of sound mind can definitely state a moral commandment is righteous unless it passes the tests I laid out here.

          You mentioned the John Bogle passage. Though it is not the one I referenced in the post, here is a quick snapshot of two pages in the introduction. This will give you a sort of real-world look at how I, personally, approach this. If you look at my notes, most of it is glowing praise, with a single passage commentated, “This is a lie!!”. In this particular paragraph (which began on the previous, non-pictured page), Bogle was talking about survivorship in equity calculations and mentioning how the original Dow components other than General Electric all but disappeared; implicitly indicating that it was somehow supporting his statement that common stock returns had been historically overstated. However, it’s an illusion. I explained why about nine months ago in a comment on the methodology changes in the S&P 500, writing:

          American Cotton Oil? Yeah, that’s now part of Unilever, one of the most profitable, successful investments of the past century.

          American Tobacco Company? Sweet Lord it ended up becoming Fortune Brands, one of the most successful spin-off and compounding enterprises in the history of human civilization. It went through so many reorganizations and spin-offs that you ended up owning everything from home security systems to Jim Beam whiskey.

          Distilling & Cattle Feeding Company? Yeah, that ended up part of British giant Hanson PLC before being spun-off as an independent business with a name change, and then taken private.

          Chicago Gas Company? That was aquired by Peoples Energy, which later merged in Integrys Energy Group, which was acquired last year by Wisconsin Energy Corporation.

          General Electric? Still around plus a bunch of spin-offs.

          Laclede Gas Company? The largest natural gas company in my home state of Missouri. It may be a boring utility but in my lifetime, it’s compounded at just shy of 9% assuming no dividends reinvested.

          United States Rubber Company ended up finding its way into French blue chip Michelin.

          National Lead? It’s complicated but it is one of those situations like Eastman Kodak where you didn’t lose money despite horrific losses on the surface if your family held it as part of the original index. The company itself, which worked on the atomic bomb for the government and was known for its Dutch Boy paints, paid out dividends and spun-off its Baroid division, which is now part of Halliburton.

          North American Company? That was broken up by the SEC, and permitted by the Supreme Court decision in 1946thanks to the earlier-enacted PUHCA, shattering a public utility empire that was straight out of the gilded age; a sort of Standard Oil of electric companies operating an incredible network of subsidiaries that spanned the country.

          Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company found its way into U.S. Steel.

          U.S. Leather Company has the distinction of being the only original Dow component that went into liquidation. It final reorganization involved a distribution of cash and a one-for-one share exchange for Keta Gas & Oil Corporation, which was subsequently abused by a scoundrel named Lowell Birell, who hid his misdeeds in the financial statements as a sort of front. So, yes, this one was largely a failure.

          Historically, you did very well. Of course, everyone now ignores the huge portfolio of shares you inherit spanning multiple continents and currencies because … face it … people are lazy. They just want to pull up a quote and get a quick answer but that’s not how the real world works.

          The fact that this passage was either a gross factual error on his part due to lack of research or intellectually dishonest in an attempt to paint his favored financial solution in a better light further on in the work doesn’t change the value of the other passages. Each assertion, each stated fact … they have to stand on their own.

          You can objectively evaluate Leviticus and say, “Wow, this is insane. We’re throwing out the parts about eating seafood, killing women, keeping slaves, killing gays, keeping pet geckos, attending religious services a week plus sixty-six days following child birth, cross-breading animals, and mixing fabrics in fashion because it is simply crazy.” You can also objectively evaluate Leviticus and say, “Perhaps it is a better way to behave for farmers not to reap their entire field so that a certain portion is left for the poor, the orphans, and the widows who can’t support themselves. Perhaps it is moral to treat immigrants and refugees with kindness.”

          Why? The commandment isn’t moral because it’s in Leviticus even though that is the original reference quote. It’s moral because it is inherently moral, as previously defined. The commandment doesn’t depend upon the divine to bestow it with morality. “Thou shalt not murder” doesn’t need scripture to make it a moral commandment. It is. You could remove it from Leviticus and stick on the side of a Coca-Cola can and it will still be equally as moral.

          “Thou shalt not murder” does not lose any moral authority just because it is sitting next to something that is crazy or evil because it does not derive its moral authority from the author or the book in which it is found. Again, it is.

          As for your last point … I find it interesting the reaction people have to certain things when I write them. I suspect you’re right that a lot of people read that and it resonates more powerfully with them because of the referenced source. Other people, it repulses them for the reasons you’ve laid out in your responses. My suggestion: Neither is the right approach. You have to evaluate the assertion, the text, the commandment, the morality on its own.

          To go back to the cookbook analogy and to borrow a bit from Goodwin’s law: Imagine that in the midst of pulling off one of the biggest holocausts in human history, Hitler decided to take up baking. As he’s writing about the superiority of the Aryan race in one paragraph, and demonizing gays, the Polish, Jews, Russians, and multiple other groups in another, he happens to write detailed instructions for an absolutely out-of-this-world Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. It’s incredible. It’s the best cake you will ever have in your entire life. Your grandchildren will tell stories about it. The validity of the recipe – its quality and character – are not influenced by the the rest of the text. It is. The same goes for Leviticus and its commandments. No matter how monstrous Leviticus may be, there may still be wisdom and even truth buried in there among the evil (and a lot of it is very, very evil – I’d go so far as to call some of the passages outright demonic with no practical difference between it and ISIS were humans to attempt to live by it). It does not lose its validity because of the surrounding words because the validity does not arise from the divine or even tradition. Therefore, quoting it does not in any way indicate agreement with anything other than the quoted passage.

          That said, I do think your final comment is right and something I should probably keep in mind: Even though that is how I use it, and even though that is how I encourage everyone to interpret it, it’s safe to bet a lot of people are going to click-whirr it and immediately extrapolate approval to the entire text because of the halo and horns effect and other forces. It’s interesting to see the responses I get when the opposite occurs, too, such as one of the working essays I released that dealt with cult beliefs that arise across time. Merely pointing out the history and source of some behavior, and how it evolved, caused caused some people to get extremely upset with me.

          Though, to be fair, sometimes I do it on purpose. More than occasionally, I write in a way that I hope to help people hold a mirror up to their own beliefs and behaviors, even if they end up concluding they were right, so they are at least thinking about it actively. It’s shocking how many folks go through life without ever really stopping to think – really think – about what they believe and why they believe it …

  • Brendan

    I find it difficult to accept moral absolutes as the ideal standard for human behavior, and while I understand your message, when determining what is truly honest, it begs the question “what is truth?” My wife has gained about ten pounds since starting medical school and will, at moments of insecurity, ask me to verify this as fact. I indeed lie and say “no, you have not gained weight.” She knows this to be a lie, as do I; a calibrated scale will speak the truth. However, I also consider the nature of her question, and what her intention is. No she is not truly concerned with ten extra pounds, but rather concerned with her self-image, how society views obesity, especially in women, and the unrealistic expectations that women hold themselves to, so when I “lie” I’m actually saying, “no, I love you, you are beautiful, and as your husband I like you just as you are.” She’s not asking for objective truth; she’s asking for love and support. There is also an implicit understanding in that she’s not on the path to obesity or being unhealthy, but rather a side effect of having to sit and study for long periods of time, lack of sleep, and also the human body’s physiological response to stress hormones like cortisol, despite her running regimen and eating habits.
    So if I were to be held a single absolute, it would be that when asking “what is truth” the best answer we have its discovery is in the dialectical; the Socratic method, where logic supported by real-world, reproducible, observations is constantly collected and debated over.

    • Ang

      I think Joshua’s point is In this case, why lie and say “no, you have not gained weight” and not “I love you, you are beautiful, and as your husband I like you just as you are”? Speaking the truth doesn’t mean not understanding context and hammering the person asking the question with what they would perceive to be hurtful words. I think his point is that there’s always another way, and learning those communication/political skills has a side benefit of being very useful in life in all types of future situations

    • I think @Ang summed up my personal feelings on it beautifully. Let’s walk through it, though, so I can further articulate how I see the situation.

      For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to start with four assumptions.

      1. You and your wife love each other very much.
      2. You and your wife want the best for each other.
      3. You and your wife trust each other.
      4. You and your wife are emotionally mature and capable of being respectful even in disagreement.

      Your wife has put on 10 lbs. She feels bad about it for all of the reasons you describe – other people might judge her, she worries you might not find her attractive, there are multiple studies shown that women experience subconscious discrimination in pay and promotion as a result of even mild weight gain, etc. She looks in the mirror or feels her clothes not, quite, fit correctly and she experiences a surge of emotion that includes these anxieties.

      There are only two acceptable ways for your wife (or anyone) to behave in this situation:

      1. Accept that she is now heavier and she does not wish to put in the work to change it, in which case she has forfeited to the right to feel anxious about the ramifications and consequences.

      2. Change her behavior so that she returns to her previous weight. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen if she eats less than her body burns through regular metabolic function and exercise.

      That’s it. There is no other approach that makes sense; no other course of action that you, or she, should accept. Anything else is a complete waste of time, energy, emotion, and resources.

      Meanwhile, she still has to deal with the emotional anxieties. That is normal. That is human. If you’re like many married couples, your love, support, and devotion is an important foundation to help her get through this process. It’s one of the huge appeals and strengths of marriage – you each have a vital role in helping each other; supporting one another’s choices, offering encouragement, holding them in your arms when it gets to be too much. You’re a team, each striving to make yourselves as individuals, your marriage, and your family better and stronger.

      The general rule of thumb when committing to a policy of honesty can be summed up as, “say what you mean and mean what you say“. If your wife really wants to say, “I know I’ve put on weight. I feel unattractive. I’m disappointed in myself. I worry that you won’t find me as attractive and that I’ve let both you and me down by letting this happen. I want to fix it but right now I’m overwhelmed and I need you to tell me you love me.” that is what she should say.

      She should have enough faith in you to know you can handle the truth from her; that you won’t judge her for it; you won’t make fun of her for it; that she can be totally, completely, and utterly emotionally naked and know that you’re there for her.

      In other words: Why does she feel the need to lie to you by asking a question that she doesn’t really mean? Why doesn’t she trust you enough to tell you how she’s really feeling?

      People use the strategy your wife is employing, known as veiled communication, when, on some level, they believe there is a chance of judgment or rejection. It’s a defense mechanism that can make a lot of sense in a lot of situations; even be an intelligent strategy in the business and non-profit world. I’d argue (strongly) that in a marriage between equals it isn’t optimal. Learning to dispense with it and be completely open and honest with one another can be uncomfortable but the results are worth it. It won’t happen if both parties aren’t deserving because people don’t like to be cut, especially from those who know where to bury the knife you’ve handed them. You each have to be worthy of one another’s trust.

      She needs to trust you enough to ask you what she really wants to ask you. And you need to trust her enough to be honest with her.

      But let’s examine it further. What are some of the reasons you might lie? Seriously, sit down and look at them. You’ll find that none of them are good. For example:

      1. You worry about her feelings getting hurt.

      This means either A.) You have no faith in your delivery; the ability to adequately address and calm the real emotions she is experiencing, which doesn’t speak well of you, or B.) You have no faith in her strength; that you believe she is weak, incapable of being your equal partner, and required paternalistic coddling, which doesn’t speak well of her.

      2. You don’t want to deal with the potential anger she might direct at you.

      This means either A.) Again, you don’t have faith in your delivery, to be able to be honest without being offensive B.) You don’t have faith in her maturity, or C.) You care more about avoiding temporary pain than living an honest life that is constantly striving toward improvement. You would rather allow a sub-optimal situation to remain than go through a little unpleasantness to better yourself and your wife, which should be intolerable if you truly love her. You should push each other to be better; to do better; to improve.

      In every possible analysis, from every possible angle, when your wife asks the “wrong” question, she is cheating herself, she is cheating you, and she is cheating your marriage.

      When you lie to her by telling her something you know is a falsehood, you are cheating yourself, you are cheating her, and you are cheating your marriage.

      You both need to be brave enough to look at each other and say, “I’m going to let you see the real me”. Throw out the veiled communication. You two are on the same team. It’s you against the world. There should be no need for any pretense between you.

      That is what I mean when I say it’s lazy. You’re doing it because it’s easy not because it’s best or most effective. You can do better. You can have better. You win by making the change and committing to honesty. Your wife wins by making the change and committing to honesty. You both come out ahead. It’s worth it.

  • Brendan

    Yet as Joshua states: “When I witness it in someone, even if it is intended to be polite or inconsequential, it is as if an impenetrable metal wall instantly slams up in my heart and my head like some scene in a Science Fiction movie when the alarms are sounded. They’re most likely never getting in because I can’t trust them” does imply what you counter me with as “not understanding context and hammering the person asking the question with what they would perceive to be hurtful words”.

  • I agree it is bad to be actively deceitful, and actually that was my first thought for a deal breaker. It is nice Joshua that you have found a community of people with such common values.

    But, if the context or assumption calls for marketing pitches then it is good to give those with gusto. For example if one is being hired and the team asks, ‘So what can you do?’, the correct answer is not, ‘Here is an impartial list of pros and cons of me as a human being,’ but rather, ‘Here are all the awesome things I can contribute to your team!’

    In response to @disqus_XBSE5XmuAk:disqus, I think the rules are likewise for ‘How are you doing?’ I used to really struggle with this question during graduate school, when I felt bad and people I did not know would ask me questions like that which if taken literally are quite intimate.

    But the tacit or implicit context is ‘I am being friendly. Are you friendly? But keep it brief! (Unless we know each other well),’ as well as the strictly literal and lexical meaning, ‘How is your internal emotional state?’ The answer that is both socially reasonable in the U.S. and truthful is to round up a bit when expressing one’s internal emotional state. For example, if one is having a bad day, then ‘Meh, so-so’ is a reasonable response. If something truly terrible just happened, then ‘Tough going,’ is a reasonable response.

    Otherwise, it ends up dragging everyone down and constantly violating the axioms in other peoples’ communication. If one was to be entirely rational and literal in everything, I do not think it would be so easy to get out of bed!

    Interestingly, I find it distasteful to lie, not primarily because of any ethical or moral reasons (although those are good and valid reasons), but just because I dislike contradictions. I think this is related to my background in math, physics, computers. One of the first appeals to me of investing was in discovering the formal theory behind prices and discovering mis-pricings as a violation of this formal logic. In a real sense a mis-pricing is a lie. It is a mis-estimation of the expected value of future cash. This bothers me in some deep sense because I believe everything should fit well into beautiful and logical theories.

    • Praetor7

      If you are being truly friendly, you won’t have any restriction such as expecting the other party to keep it brief or round up a bit. If you do, you don’t truly care about the other party and are not friendly in fact. It is an abhorrent situation and one would prefer avoiding social interaction in that case. In other words, as that is always the case, one would avoid social interaction all of the time in our society. With regards to dragging everyone down, dehumanising rationality and socially-reasonable-answers, I think that the opposite applies to all of them. Lying is what really drags one down, dehumanises and is unreasonable when interacting socially, because no conversation is based on authenticity and true love.

      • @Praetor7: I am not sure that you or Joshua understood me.

        The verbal question “How are you doing?” in the U.S. culture has a slang meaning similar to “Hi.” Let’s call that meaning (1), which is the more common meaning by far of this question. The question also has a literal meaning which is less often used, where people are actively inquiring about your emotional state. We can call that less common meaning (2).

        To answer the question correctly requires the tacit or social knowledge that the correct interpretation of the question is as meaning (1). Given this assumption, the correct answer would be just to say “OK,” even if you had the worst day of your life. But don’t trust me — we can also consult Google. It turns out the top four answers to the query “how are you doing in the united states” (including two etiquette blogs) all recommend answering this way:

        http://blogs.voanews.com/student-union/2012/11/12/the-wrong-way-to-answer-how-are-you/
        http://redbus2us.com/how-people-greet-in-usa-etiquette-in-us/
        http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/105252/proper-polite-response-to-how-are-you-doing
        http://www.ediplomat.com/np/cultural_etiquette/ce_us.htm

        The reason is that the phrase “How are you doing?” has been redefined in the U.S. to mean “hi” instead of its literal interpretation. Therefore, it is in error to respond to the literal question (2), because the intended meaning is (1).

        However, as a engineering-minded person who wants to be correct, it seems erroneous to me to entirely neglect the literal definition (2) when answering. Because although the asker was unlikely to have meant (2), it is certainly a possibility. Therefore, to minimize the expected error in my response I would take the answer that is the midpoint between the correct answers to interpretation (1) and (2). Unless it were entirely clear which interpretation the asker meant.

        This was what I referred to when mentioning the danger of not incorporating enough priors of social knowledge when communicating, or using too few of axioms. Specifically, one might interpret “How are you doing?” literally even though the asker meant the usual interpretation as “Hi!”. Then you might respond, “I am doing terrible,” in response to the friendly greeting “hi.” This would be an answer that is not only incorrect to the given question, but would also bring down or upset people, because they would be confused by the breach of etiquette.

        The set of assumptions people use in verbal language is extremely large, subtle, and rapidly changing due to new slang. There is no formal grammar for the English language. This is one of the main reasons natural language parsing is so difficult in computer science. There are ambiguous sentences such as “Time flies like an arrow,” which have many interpretations. We use so many metaphorical, ambiguous, context-dependent, and ill-specified phrases in our everyday communication that much of what we say has several possible meanings.

        The connection with Terry Pratchett’s Auditors was a subtle one. My point was that when one tries to be very logical, this involves simplifying the messy set of assumptions that people operate with in the real world to a simpler model that fits nicely inside one’s head. For example, one might always assume “How are you doing?” means (1) “hi”, or (2) its literal meaning, instead of the reality of it having a double meaning. Of course, as a logically-inclined person I also tend to make such simplifications, because they create neater mental models. But it is good to be aware that such logical simplifications have some perils.

        With the Auditors, Pratchett was likely referring to the laws of physics, such as the Standard Model in quantum mechanics, which have relatively few axioms needed to describe all of space and time. He juxtaposes us humans against the Auditors. Humans require extremely messy and conflicting sets of axioms, social constructs, and sets of laws to operate harmoniously. The Auditors of Reality use relatively few and austere axioms and therefore do not have personality or humanity, but do have a general preference for empty space or round planets which are easy to simulate using the laws of physics.

        • Praetor7

          Why should one care about bringing down or upsetting people by breaching etiquette when etiquette is based on hypocrisy and total lack of empathy (in spite of the fact that “how are you?” might suggest the opposite). Our society is abhorrent and I prefer to play by my own standards, honesty and love, no matter the price.

        • I agree with this totally. I’m on board with most of the examples Joshua provided except, “how are you?” “fine” for the exact same reason. It’s not an actual question. It’s just a way of saying hello. Rarely is actually asking you a question about your well being and if they are it’s usually pretty clear (close friend, private conversation, etc).

          The surprise party and Santa examples are ones I’ve been pondering since reading this. I would not have considered these problematic before.

        • Thank you for clarifying. I think I understand your point now. Let me pose my response as a question, if you don’t mind.
          You say …

          The reason is that the phrase “How are you doing?” has been redefined in the U.S. to mean “hi” instead of its literal interpretation. Therefore, it is in error to respond to the literal question (2), because the intended meaning is (1).

          However, this is clearly not the case for at least some portion of the country by virtue of the fact we are having this conversation. It’s been a few weeks but I believe when the Reddit passage I mentioned elsewhere talked about this, a lot of folks were upvoting the comments saying, “No, when I ask, I really mean it.” Yes, it was a minority compared to the majority but it was not insignificant. I certainly mean it when I ask. If I, and plenty of other people, see you on the street and say, “How are you?”, it is not some generic greeting, it is an inquiry.

          Therefore, 1.) given that you cannot be entirely certain of the intent of the person posing the question at the time it is posed and 2.) it is possible to answer in a way that satisfies both potential motivations without engaging in deception (which risks a decline in social capital) or any significant cognition load (e.g., sidestepping the question entirely, “It’s good to see you”), then why not answer in a way that is both technically correct and true? Both potential types of inquirers are satisfied, you run no risk to the perception of your integrity, and there is no efficiency or convenience cost. There is, quite literally, no downside. It’s the optimal solution.

          Why not adapt it?

    • For example if one is being hired and the team asks, “So what can you do?,” the correct answer is not, “Here is an impartial list of pros and cons of me as a human being,”

      What would make you think that it was necessary to give an impartial list in the first place? They didn’t ask for that. They asked you for your capabilities, which you can answer truthfully and even, as you said, with gusto.

      A commitment to speaking truthfully does not mean an obligation to provide total disclosure or complete transparency. You have a right to privacy. You have a right to share exactly what you want to share and no more. It means refusing to state something you know, or highly believe, to be false false or that is done in a way with the intention to deceive through falsehood. It means living a life where, if something comes out of your mouth, someone can take it to the proverbial bank.

      There are always ways to remain completely honest without alienating or harming your own interest. For example, if you were an artist with a strong portfolio and the interview committee for an independent contracting job did ask you to give a list of your weaknesses, you could say, “I think my work speaks for itself. You can see the quality. It arrives on time. Is anything else – like my weakness for binge watching Korean dramas – relevant?” Done correctly, with a smile and a twinkle in your eye, it’s not a negative. It makes you learn social fluency. Put in the category of Warren Buffett, who used to get so nervous he’d almost vomit if he had to publicly speak, signing up for a Dale Carnegie class that forced him to get up on tables and give rousing speeches so he learned to overcome his own interpersonal shortcomings to some degree.

      Otherwise, it ends up dragging everyone down and constantly violating the axioms in other peoples’ communication. If one was to be entirely rational and literal in everything, I do not think it would be so easy to get out of bed!

      If this is the case then it is a failure of communication, which is a skill that can be developed. Even if all you did was smile, nod your head, and say, “Hello”, that’s preferable to lying and saying, “Fine” or “Good” when you are neither of those things. Don’t let a falsehood come out of your mouth. Treat it like an intellectual challenge; a game, if you must. In this case, you’ve decided that you aren’t going to answer the question so you simply offer a greeting. If that is what they wanted from you, they’ll be satisfied. If they were truly interested in your emotional state, they’ll keep pressing and you can proceed from there.

      A related idea from Terry Pratchett is the Auditors of Reality, which are evil forces of nature:

      http://discworld.wikia.com/wik

      His point was I suppose that striving for too much logical cleanliness can be dehumanizing.

      I don’t see how a commitment to being truthful, answering a direct question in a way that you know to be false under the theory that the person using it isn’t really interested, falls into logical cleanliness at all … or even, how it’s a matter of rationality. Pure rationality could very well dictate that lying is a perfectly acceptable adaptation that increases your desired outcome under certain circumstances. I’m saying a higher, self-imposed standard is better in no small part because of emotional messiness. It tells the world, “I can be trusted. I respect you, I respect myself, and I refuse to lower the standards I expect of myself. You get something different with me.” I’m saying it’s liberating. Done correctly, it reduces stress and anxiety; integrates who you are as a person with the image of who you are to the outside world. It’s a better way to live.

      A mis-pricing is a lie. It is a mis-estimation of the expected value of future cash.

      I would agree that it is a mis-estimation but it does not follow that a mis-estimation is a lie. It is simply a mistake. The mis-estimation is not an intentional falsehood designed to deceive. In the same way a software program that gives you wrong directions to a pizza parlor is mistaken, not lying to you, it’s an error. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • I don’t understand that behavior. If it results in an advantage, then it completely delegitimizes the win. How you could be proud of the trophy or title if you know, even deep in your heart, it wasn’t deserved?

    Your gif reminds me of those Russian Dash-Cam compilation videos that show the rampant insurance fraud attempts in that country. Have you ever seen them? Some of them are truly wild …

    • undercover

      Yea I saw some of them before. The whole thing is just bananas.

      Makes me think how humanity will save a truckload of money and many lives when we go over to fully autonomous cars.

      • People will find ways to cheat through the autonomous cars. Technology itself does not cure fraud.

  • TheHappyPhilosopher

    Joshua,

    I’ve read your blog for some time now as just want to thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. You are one of my favorite writers on the internet; such rich philosophy and deep thinking. It’s just beautiful. I still marvel that I can wake up, turn on my computer and have such wonderful content show up on my screen for free 🙂

    Keep up the good work my friend.

  • Joe (arebelspy)

    Joshua,

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on each of the lying scenarios proposed in the NYT Philosophy column, a mere day after you posted this:
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/14/can-you-justify-these-lies/?_r=1

    He makes the opposite case you do, saying “I want to argue that the number and types of permissible lies are much wider than one might have thought,” and proposing some interesting hypotheticals.

    • Reading that piece, it goes back to what I said in the post and the comments … it astonishes me how addicted some people are to the laziness of lying; how they can allow their own short-comings, lack of respect for others, and desire to avoid functioning like an adult to overcome their integrity, selling it off for nothing. Lying is not necessary if you are committed to integrity and have even a modicum of social intelligence. Absent extraordinary circumstances: Only lazy people need to lie. Only stupid people need to lie. You should not endeavor to be either.

      1. A man lies to his wife about where they are going in order to get her to a place where a surprise birthday party has been organized.

      This is the sort of scenario my mom would use growing up demonstrating the “there is no such thing as a white lie” concept. Even if the intentions are good, it requires you to maintain secrets with people other than your spouse, and then actively deceive your spouse during the duration of the process; a precedent that should never be set especially for something as petty and ephemeral as the novelty of a half-second surprise.

      One of the reasons I knew Aaron was the one was because he has the same commitment to honesty I do. Even if we had never discussed it, he would never lie to me about something like that. He would have been extraordinarily unhappy if I did something entirely out of character and did it to him. Regardless, it wouldn’t happen anyway, not in our marriage, because very early in our relationship, we drew up the terms of our covenant the same way my parents did; rules that govern the commitment we made to each other and some of which we’ve never shared with anyone else. We also gave each other certain powers that can be exercised. You’re never going to get either of us to keep a secret from each other unless it involved a higher legal obligation that we both pre-agreed upon in advance (e.g., one of us someday became a Senator and were on a classified security committee that required total discretion). There are quite literally zero secrets between us. You shouldn’t tell either of us something you wouldn’t want the other to know because our loyalty is to each other first and foremost.

      Besides, if it takes a lie to get your spouse to accompany you somewhere, that’s a marriage I don’t understand. All Aaron would have to do is walk in the room and say, “Hey, I need to go somewhere and I want you to come with me. Don’t ask any questions.”

      2. A young child is rescued from a plane crash in a very weakened state. His parents have been killed in the crash but he is unaware of this. He asks about his parents and the attending physician says they are O.K. He intends to tell the truth once the child is stronger.

      Maybe it’s that I’m from a huge family and so it has been an ordinary thing to have dozens of children of all ages running around but it strikes me as requiring a near total lack of social intelligence, and dealing with children, to be unable to respond to the child in a way that is honest.

      Additionally, by outright lying, you are saying, “When things are really tough, it’s okay to deceive those who are weaker than you because they can’t handle it.”. If this is a situation in which deception was something you found necessary, I’d consider you to be intellectually and/or socially subpar. Do folks really not interact with kids enough to know how to handle things like this?

      3. Your father suffers from severe dementia and is in a nursing home. When it is time for you to leave he becomes extremely agitated and often has to be restrained. On the occasions when you have said you would be back tomorrow he was quite peaceful about your leaving. You tell him now every time you leave that you will be back tomorrow knowing that in a very short time after you leave he will have forgotten what you said.

      If I say I’m coming back tomorrow, I’m coming back tomorrow. If I’m not coming back tomorrow, I’m not going to say it. It’s that simple.

      For heaven’s sake, if you can’t extricate yourself honestly from a dementia patient …

      4. A woman’s husband drowned in a car accident when the car plunged off a bridge into a body of water. It was clear from the physical evidence that he desperately tried to get out of the car and died a dreadful death. At the hospital where his body was brought his wife asked the physician in attendance what kind of death her husband suffered. He replied, “He died immediately from the impact of the crash. He did not suffer.”

      You know, I don’t curse often. I really don’t like it. It’s not something I find endearing. It’s not my initial reaction in a lot of cases because it’s just not my thing. In this case, my immediate, visceral reaction? F**k that physician. The person you are supposed to love more than anything in the world suffered a horrific death and a panic-inducing final few minutes and he or she denies you the opportunity to even hear about it, making a decision that should have yours to make? No, it’s not okay. And, again, if you can’t deliver even the horror of those final minutes in a way comforts the person, you’re simply not very bright. I hate to keep hammering that point home but reading these makes me feel like I’m reading one of those anti-science textbooks that make idiotic points they think are profound. How socially and intellectually stunted are people these are difficult situations?!

      It all goes back to respect for the person. The physician is denying the person the opportunity to know the truth. The physician is making a decision that isn’t his or her right to make. It’s offensive. It’s vile. It’s arrogant. How dare they? There is no situation in which this is moral. None. I cannot imagine having so little respect for a person to lie to them like this.

      Then again, I can’t stand the idea of physicians avoiding confronting reality to coddle feelings. I want Dr. House. I want information. I think people like Tamara Taggart are out of their minds to some degree. I want to know the negatives because the positives will take care of themselves.

      5. In an effort to enforce rules against racial discrimination “testers” were sent out to rent a house. First, an African-American couple claiming to be married with two children and an income that was sufficient to pay the rent would try to rent a house. If they were told that the house was not available, a white tester couple with the same family and economic profile would be sent. If they were offered the rental there would be persuasive evidence of racial discrimination.

      There are two ways to look at this:

      First: You mean the long-controversial practice the Justice Department employed and that many consider immoral from decades past that effectively amounts to civil entrapment; something we’d never tolerate from law enforcement? No, it’s not okay. Legitimate discrimination cases should be pursued but attempting to create discrimination cases through falsehood and deception is not something I think should be tolerated by a society that has any sense. Who thinks it’s a good idea to create more government employees or contractors running around trying to get citizens to break the law so they can punish them?

      Second: The landlords are breaking the law. It is well established that law enforcement and government agencies can, within certain boundaries, employ deception for the purposes of preventing a greater evil by bringing those who transgress to justice.

      I can see strong argument being made for both.

      6. In November of 1962, during the Cuban Missile crisis, President Kennedy gave a conference. When asked whether he had discussed any matters other than Cuban missiles with the Soviets he absolutely denied it. In fact, he had promised that the United States would remove missiles from Turkey.

      There are two ways to look at this:

      First: “No comment”

      Second: Given the necessary and requisite exemption for the greater moral good (e.g., saving a life), doesn’t the President of one of the world’s most powerful countries, in the midst of dealing with that country’s most powerful enemy, in a conflict that very well could result in the total annihilation of much of life on planet Earth justify whatever degree of discretion is necessary to make sure countless innocent people aren’t incinerated? This strikes me as grotesquely intellectually dishonest.

      7. A woman interviewing for a job in a small philosophy department is asked if she intends to have children. Believing that if she says (politely) it’s none of their business she will not get the job, she lies and says she does not intend to have a family.

      She answers honestly. If they hire her, there’s no problem. If they don’t and she believes it is the sole reason, she sues them for illegal employment discrimination.

      What is the alternative – you lie, get pregnant, then deal with a hostile work environment? By lying for temporary relief, she’s set herself up for a bigger conflict down the road and now has to maintain the lie. It’s a stupid way to live. It’s a stressful way to live. Why bring this upon yourself? Reading this makes it easy to understand why so many people suffer misery. So much of it is self-inflicted.

      8. In order to test whether arthroscopic surgery improved the conditions of patients’ knees a study was done in which half the patients were told the procedure was being done but it was not. Little cuts were made in the knees, the doctors talked as if it were being done, sounds were produced as if the operation were being done. The patients were under light anesthesia. It turned out that the same percentage of patients reported pain relief and increased mobility in the real and sham operations. The patients were informed in advance that they either would receive a real or a sham operation.

      The patients, as with all clinical trials in the United States, was informed and consented in writing prior to the test being carried out. They weren’t deceived. This is, again, profoundly intellectually dishonest. The author is grasping at straws and should be embarrassed.

      9. I am negotiating for a car with a salesperson. He asks me what the maximum I am prepared to pay is. I say $15,000. It is actually $20,000.

      If the author thinks any answer is appropriate, negotiation probably isn’t a strong suit. What kind of fool answers that question in the first place? This is how a 3rd grader imagines people negotiate. If it’s what comes to mind when dealing with price agreements, you’re not doing it correctly.

      Lying is, again, not necessary. It’s something stupid or lazy people do. You can get a much better price by writing a cash bid request from three competing dealers within so many hundred square miles, telling them that whichever gets back to you with the lowest price by a deadline is going to result in you walking in and handing over a cashiers check.

      10. We heap exaggerated praise on our children all the time about their earliest attempts to sing or dance or paint or write poems. For some children this encouragement leads to future practice, which in turn promotes the development–in some — of genuine achievement.

      And what has that gotten us, as a society? Have you been reading the stuff coming out about emotional resilience in college students lately? You have well-respected educators and academics talking about severe cultural changes that are occurring because students are showing up, having been coddled by constant undeserved praise throughout their lifetime. It cheats the child of the opportunity to improve.

      Do you know one of my earliest memories of Aaron? We were teenagers and going to an All State music competition. One of the music staff – a man nearly everybody loved and who was a very talented musician himself – was working with a student who had no talent. Aaron was nearby and overheard this staff member praising the talentless student, who had clearly put in a lot of effort to no avail, “You sound so great! I’m proud of you.” Aaron never wanted to work with him again. When he found me and I asked what was on his mind, he said, “How can I trust [person], anymore? His praise and feedback is useless to me now. He can’t be trusted to be objective. He cares more about making a student feel good than improving.”

      That’s one of the reasons he ended up at the private conservatory where I studied. The founder, the woman who helped turn us into the men we are today in many ways, would remind us, “I would rather be right than loved.” She held us to brutally high standards but she adored us, too. She made us better. She taught us to expect more out of ourselves. And it isn’t an accident that, in her lifetime, she helped launch more music careers than probably almost anyone else in our part of the Midwest. A false compliment would never have come out of her mouth.

      When we went off to music school, it was the same deal. One of our classmates was gutted because the chair of the vocal department (correctly) looked at her and said something like, “You do not have anywhere near the necessary instrument to make a living as a performer. You need to deal with that now before you waste the next ten years of your life. Throw yourself into it as a hobby, get a job as a music librarian so you can be surrounded with it, but you are wasting your time and money getting a performance degree because no matter how hard you work, you will never be as good as someone with a fraction of the work ethic but more raw ability.” That was a gift. No matter how much pain it caused her in the short-term, it was a gift.

      TL;DR: That article is intellectual and moral garbage.

      • Joe (arebelspy)

        I appreciate your taking the time to respond to each of them with well thought out reasons why. Well said, and thank you.

      • FratMan

        “Have you been reading the stuff coming out about emotional resilience in college students lately? You have well-respected educators and academics talking about severe cultural changes that are occurring because students are showing up, having been coddled by constant undeserved praise throughout their lifetime. It cheats the child of the opportunity to improve.”

        This is how Harvard gets families ready for the Christm–ahem, holiday season.

        https://scontent-ord1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpt1/v/t1.0-9/12391913_1052583378095580_3740239847665470763_n.jpg?oh=055caaa989d18095bbdac0d33070e71d&oe=56DBC32F

        • I’m thinking more along the lines of what Former Stanford Dean of Freshman Julie Lythcott-Haims discusses … what caused her to write a book called How to Raise an Adult, which she explains a bit about in this video.

          She also wrote a fantastic essay in The New York Times called Millennials Will Soon Define ‘America,’ and That’s a Problem for Ideas.

          It seems like practically everybody sees this happening. It’s not some sort of anecdotal outlier or the general angst over the state of youth. There is a cultural shift that could have profound effects on the nation. I see it in my own life with the 18-22 year old group. Something is different. There is a fragility there that is terrifying. (I was reading something a few weeks ago in which a dean or assistant dean talked about how they had to bring in mental health care services to help several students who were falling apart because they had been called a bad word (e.g., a girl being called a “bitch” by someone). These students lacked the personal skill set and life experience to resolve basic-level conflicts like these without someone holding their hand; they don’t have it within themselves to deal with the world because they haven’t had to deal with the world.)

          It spans both sides of the political aisle. It isn’t restricted to geography. For example, look at a sort of anti-Yale, Oklahoma Wesleyan University. The President famously went on a tirade about how it was a university, not a “safe space” or day care. Yet, it’s the ultimate safe space of all! Go find the student handbook. It’s insane. They are treating adults like they were in elementary school. It’s so far beyond infantile it makes me queasy just reading some of the details because this is how you raise a subservient citizenry. It’s bad for a republic. There are curfews, cleanliness checks, bans on movies above PG-13; your Internet traffic is monitored and if you visit non-approved websites, you can be expelled. They define the bra strap width female students must wear. Anything you do the staff decides is “offensive” isn’t tolerated and you aren’t allowed to offend the “sense of propriety” of other students. Male students can’t be alone with female students. Speech codes are enforced to prohibit non-acceptable discussions and words. Video games are banned if they contain curse words. Personal speculation and gambling is forbidden. Even posting, in a private social media account, that you support marriage equality is grounds for expulsion. But that’s not all … if you know of any of your classmates who have done this, and you don’t turn them in, you face expulsion, too. Don’t worry though. Before they expel you, they’ll – are you ready for this – take away your car as a punishment. The car you own. The car for which you paid.

          When you are brought up in bubbles like this, no matter what those bubbles look like – left or right – you lack the ability to navigate the world as it is. People are going to offend you. People are going to disagree. People are going to attack you. You have to know how to carry on and be productive. You have to deal with nuance and diversity. Your professors are not your mommy and daddy. Your professors are not there to hold your hand or make you feel better. They are there to challenge you. They are there to confront you with things that make you uncomfortable, playing Devil’s Advocate so your ideas can withstand scrutiny. None of us are entitled to make it through the day without having our feelings hurt.

        • It’s worse elsewhere, as in you-know-what-country. There, adults can’t do any of that!

        • caleb

          Hey Joshua,

          I’m pretty sure I have this figured out …

          Because of technology, it’s the slow move away from physical output that is making the next generation weaker.

          Specifically, we’re very disconnected from having to fight physically to survive. This is a great overall interview, but I think Firas nails it at 4:55 here https://youtu.be/T7H-WsRVQzY?t=4m55s — I have not fact checked what he shares, but if it’s true, then it makes total sense that Plato said they didn’t study philosophy until 30 — until then, they studied physically.

          Being a lifetime martial artist, I attribute much of my success — elsewhere in life — to the lessons I’ve learned through the physicality of martial arts study.

          Anyways, my thesis:

          – most everyone today, because of technology, is disconnected from the physical output of their ancestors to survive. Even tribesmen in Africa are doing business using their mobile phones now (just as an example of how it’s slowly changing all over the world)

          – specifically, within the united states, with the growth of the PC culture, and “all violence/fighting at school is zero tolerance”, everyone is a winner/gets a trophy, etc etc there is no physical striving anymore.

          I think the large success of the Fight Club movie was that part of the story that somehow a legion of people in the united states — young men mostly? — connected to was when Tyler plainly stated “Once you’ve been in a fight, the volume of the rest of your life turns down” or something like that.

          That’s my thesis. I have more to back it up, but would like to hear your thoughts.

          P.S. It’s funny given how successful you are, I’ve never heard you talk about any physical pursuits on your blog (granted I’ve not read every single article yet, but still) …

      • I often read articles like the linked one that purposefully muddy the moral waters. Do you think this is a recent phenomenon caused by increased moral relativism?

      • onlyalittle

        Regarding Tamara Taggart–I understand wanting to know what you are getting into (including the negatives), but if she was quoting her doctors correctly, didn’t some of their comments seem overly prescriptive? There’s a difference between telling her “Your son has a higher chance of being overweight/having Alzheimer’s/having leukemia” and saying “Your son has a whole lifetime of being overweight ahead of him”…

        All the other stuff…whoa. Truthfully, I do lie often without even thinking about it. It has caused me a lot of unnecessary grief in life, though, so I definitely see merits in changing this behavioral pattern.

        • I agree with you. My feelings are solely restricted to her mentioning even explanations of accurate, factual, need-to-know-so-you-can-be-prepared-and-mitigate-the-damage probabilistic outcomes as being an example of some sort of problem endemic to medicine; e.g., “We heard how Beckett had a greater chance of having leukemia. We heard about how Beckett had a greater chance of having Alzheimers when he got older. We heard that Beckett wouldn’t walk when he was supposed to walk and he wouldn’t talk when he was supposed to talk; he might not go to a regular school.”

          Those things are all true. It would be a terrible disservice to both parents and children to not prepare them fully for the challenges they are more likely to face; to know what to expect and understand that their expectations are no longer relevant nor appropriate. “Your child is twice as likely to be fat, leading to even more health complications” is a useful thing to know. It can improve their life. It can keep them safe and make them healthier because you, as a parent and caregiver, now know that nutrition and exercise will require greater attention than they otherwise might. “Your child will always be fat no matter what you do” is neither useful nor true. There’s a world of difference between the two statements.

          Still, if I had a doctor that made the last statement, I don’t think it would cause me emotional distress if I thought the numbers didn’t support what he was saying (just as I wouldn’t find comfort if he assured me everything was alright if I thought the risk factors were higher than his opinion justified). I’d probably find a different medical advisor but solely because I thought less of his judgment not because he caused me discomfort. I want information; data. I’m the CEO of my life. I’m the one that has to make trade-off decisions. They are there to advise. I am there to decide. I want the best, most accurate inputs I can find so I can move pieces on the chess board to maximize my own, and my family’s, happiness and opportunities based upon my own values and priorities. Refusing to give me the entire picture for the sake of managing my feelings denies me the ability to do just that. It’d be an irrevocable breach of trust.

  • Matt

    How would you deal with working at a business where this type of dishonesty is rampant? The two types of deception I see often are deceptive special numbers “for investors” and the internal self-deception of thinking that you can’t afford to do the right thing.

    1. The amount of things people will do “for investors” in order to get funding is just appalling to me. People seem to think it is acceptable to make up a different margin calculation numbers “for investors” under the premise that it is acceptable to calculate it differently based on intent (!?) (is it internal or for investors). For public examples, simply look towards some of these unprofitable tech giants that report breakeven “non-GAAP earnings” (excluding stock based compensation) when they are in fact running at a -33% operating margin. I know I used to laugh about how ridiculous it is that people do these things, but when you know and work with people who actually do these things makes it much more alarming. Its not just theoretical and distant anymore.

    People also seem to like to spend money investing in a project that will look cool and attract investors even if the business benefit is minimal to detrimental. The project will end up being abandoned anyway in the long run since its only reason for existence is to be a flashy selling point for investors. Part of me just thinks it might be more prevalent in tech/silicon valley, but another part of me says that this is just how people act to make themselves feel better and get other people to hand over the money. As an investor, it seems to me that you would actually get more respect by being upfront and honest about the business and by avoiding posturing games. And if some investors really do prefer form over substance, do you really want them to be on your team anyway? There are plenty of investors out there. You don’t have to play games to try to please everyone, and if someone says no, you can move on to the next person. Honest, reasonable investors who you would want to work with can’t be that rare…

    2. I find it very rare that you can’t afford to do the right thing. Usually this statement just means that you would rather not make the changes necessary for you to be able to do the right thing. But given that most of these people are high income Americans, not being able to afford something just seems like an excuse.

    If you were working at a business where the management/owners acted as in the examples above, what would you do? Is it acceptable for you to continue to work for such a company? Have you fulfilled your duty if you voice your ethical concerns and are ignored? Or do you have a duty to refuse to support such a system and find work elsewhere? I am curious about your answer to these questions assuming that none of the above examples are illegal, only that they are fundamentally inconsistent your ethical values of honesty.

  • SonicTraveller

    Thanks for another great post Joshua.

    At first I was a little dismissive of this post, thinking ‘Do Not Lie’ – ok, fair point, moving along.

    But the post stuck in the back of my mind, leaving me feeling that maybe I’d missed something. There’s a broader implication which was in the post but I didn’t at first appreciate: that by forcing yourself to be 100% honest with others, you’re forced to develop self-assertiveness.

    One of the values many people seem to learn growing up is ‘Don’t hurt anyone else’s feelings’. So if you’re faced with a choice of standing up for your own view of reality, or protecting another person’s feelings- someone with that value-set often chooses the latter.

    In my experience, the people who are most likeable tend to be people who have this type of integrity and assertiveness, you know where they stand (you may not always like it) and they come accross very authentic. Even more important- not being assertive can devolve into drifting through life held hostage by the feelings of others, not able to assertively follow your own path, and ‘waking up’ in a world surrounded by people you don’t like, doing things you don’t enjoy, simply because you couldn’t be honest about what you want and how you feel.

    The challenge with ‘Not Lying’ comes down to handling the social aspect skillfully. For those who’ve always relied on the crutch of white lies, evasiveness or outright dishonesty- they may simply lack the social skills to express themselves honestly and assertively.

    One of the best, most actionable books I’ve found on assertiveness is called ‘When I Say No, I Feel Guilty’, by Manuel J. Smith. It outlines very specific techniques to be more assertive, which simply means being more honest with others about what you want and how you feel.

    • Derek

      I think you’ve hit on a very good point that many people are raised to prioritize not offending others, even if it means telling seemingly small lies. The idea that the best way to make friends and get through life is to avoid conflict and disagreement. To some extent, I see elements of this in my own upbringing. It’s something I recognized several years ago, saw the problems it can cause, and have tried to change. I wish I could say I’ve conquered it but I still catch myself every once in a while.

  • Steven

    Joshua, I read this post a while back and have been thinking about it a lot since.

    Back before you went public with your marital situation on the blog you used to write your posts in a way that many of would assume you were straight and read the word Spouse as Wife in our heads – due to our lack of imagination/societal expectations/what have you…how does that situation fit into what you describe?

    Less tolerant/open minded readers got a chance to know you before realizing you were gay, and I think that you won a lot of hearts and minds to the gay rights issue by writing the blog the way you did. i.e. it was good falsehood that was propagated.

    While you didn’t speak/write a lie, you surely knew when you said it that many
    of your readers would interpret what you said in way that was untrue.

    Would you say it’s okay to communicate in a way that takes advantage of someones faults and shortcomings which will make them believe a falsehood? You essentially get the the ‘benefits’ of a lie without committing the actual crime.

    Is it just the physical act of lying that you would consider inappropriate?

  • zippy

    Joshua, I love your posts, but on this one I must mildly disagree. You see, I worked on the problem of lying for nearly 7 years independently. I sensed that, if I could solve the problem of lying ( i.e. when is it OK to tell a lie, and when is it not OK to tell a lie) then I could use that as a template model for larger ethical issues. I sought a single sentence principle to guide me on the subject of honest and lying, that encompassed all possible permutations. I kept the issue on my coffee table, so to speak, like a Rubik’s cube. Occasionally, I would pick it up and give it a few turns, trying to get everything to line up. But, I never could get it all to work. This simple, low-level, ethical issue was too hard for me. Finally, I decided that I had spent enough personal time on the matter, and that it would be alright from me learn the answer from some other mind. So, I did what all budding philosophers do. I searched the internet ! Four hours later, I found myself very disappointed. If the answer is in cyberspace, I haven’t seen it. By now, I’m feeling a little bit crazy. “I don’t know the answer, and neither does anyone else !”, I thought to myself. I mentioned this to a good friend, and they said, “You don’t think right”. I was like, “Whut ?” They repeated, “You don’t think right. Here, you need to read this, and this.” Low and behold ! What a revelation to me. In two books I found the answer, and I knew it was the answer because it correctly identified all the fail points I was encountering for the last 7 years, and couldn’t move beyond. There was a single sentence principle to guide me on the subject of honesty. It was a very beautiful thing (to me anyway). And, there was MUCH more beyond, as I had anticipated, when I originally sensed that the subject of honesty could be used as a template model for larger ethical issues. I have suggested this to you before, and I will repeat myself. The power of your intellect demands a careful reading of: 1) “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” by Ayn Rand, 2) “Understanding Objectivism” by Leonard Peikoff. You are a very busy man, of course. But I think it would be worth the effort for you, just to get a new perspective on the subject of honesty. It was for me.

  • I haven’t read the book yet, but I thought this post was pretty fascinating in relation to this topic.

    https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2015/12/dan-ariely-on-why-and-how-we-cheat/

    • In the past, we’ve talked about the importance of getting the vocabulary right; of making sure that people are using words in the same way. Flipping through the Kindle edition of the book (like you, I haven’t read it cover-to-cover, yet, so take this comment with the requisite qualification, subject to future revision, of a quick skim reading selected passages), it seems immediately that despite calling what he is studying “dishonesty”, it’s more about differentiating between actual deceit and the mental models that cause self-assessment errors and biases the way Munger discusses. Referring to the latter as a form of dishonesty strikes me as a failure of language; shoving a square hole in a round peg, so to speak. Dishonesty requires intent; an act of will, often based on motive. The base neurological patterns that cause human misjudgment in the first place – such as believing that one is a superior driver to what the objective facts would otherwise indicate – seems, at least in my opinion, a different thing entirely and certainly not comparable to the moral, ethical, and behavioral considerations that concerned me when writing this post.

      My solution for getting around self-assessment errors is to rely on objective, independent data. I think it’s come up at some point in the past five or six years, but an example: Some of the software systems Aaron and I use have monitoring capabilities so we can go back and watch ourselves work, seeing how much time we wasted, which websites we visited, what our peak productivity was. We measure our calories and exercise in a nutrition app, weighing our food on a digital scale. We look at our financial condition and spending patterns, sometimes on giant 11″x17″ ledger sheets. We use checklists to get things done proactively instead of waiting for them to need repair or upkeep. We do it because we know the human brain has evolutionary short-cuts and that we have to account for them if we want to maximize our output and move more quickly toward our goals. It’s similar to psychologists telling parents that if they want to substantially reduce the risk of leaving a baby in a car on a hot day as their brain goes on auto-pilot, always keep a stuffed animal in clear sight in the front seat whenever the child is in the back, removing it only when they child is safely removed. It serves as a trigger to cut the auto-pilot process; a reminder that cuts through the efficiency you brain craves so much when you go into an almost trance-like state, sailing through your daily routine.

      As for “cheating”, to me it’s a form of lying; not a separate thing at all. For example, the illustration about players overestimating their honesty in a sport like golf. I don’t get the urge to cheat. It’s as if the universe, or God, or whatever your personal belief system happens to be didn’t install that chip in my genetics because, in my mind, if I won, it completely, utterly, and irrevocably invalidates any superiority I should feel because I didn’t do it through my own effort. It doesn’t matter if I really did everything else right, it still doesn’t count in my book. I don’t want to win because winning isn’t the goal. I want to be the best, with winning being the by-product of it. Winning, in other words, should be a symptom. It is evidence of the skill, ability, and discipline of achievement. The trophy alone means nothing if it wasn’t legitimately earned. Treating the trophy or the scoreboard as if it were the source of the thing to be admired is little different than this common human fallacy of worshiping the form of something over the substance.

      It does not necessarily make for a likable personality trait; something I learned a long time ago. In that sense, the minor stuff that happens with this blog is nothing. (E.g., I’ll occasionally, get someone send me a link to another site or forum that is discussing my writing (I generally make it a rule in recent years to avoid commenting or even reading personal finance or investing discussion boards, with very few exceptions when the mood hits me, because it’s not worth the effort with most people). Recently, there was a page where – I might get it slightly wrong but the spirit of it was something like – they didn’t like my site because I constantly droned on about moral obligations and duties or something along those lines; don’t recall exactly. That kind of sentiment is strange to me. Heck, I once turned in over half of the students in my college history course for cheating on an exam because 1.) it pissed me off that someone would show so little respect for themselves, the professor, and the rest of us. and 2.) Aaron and I were paying something like (at the time) $925 a credit hour for a piece of paper that we were going to earn and they were going to fake their way to it? No. I sleep better at night knowing I did the right thing. If people hate me – and there are definitely those who do, especially before I matured and grew into diplomacy – it’s not the end of the world. I probably wouldn’t have wanted them in my inner circle, anyway, if the objectionable behavior was something they considered acceptable.)

      I should probably get work done … I have dozens of comments I need to respond to and I’d like to get some stuff published on the blog in the next few days. Sorry for such a long response. I look forward to reading the book, though. It will have to wait until I’ve wrapped up some others but maybe I can get it worked into the schedule this month.

      • As someone who strives to be honest, I have to admit I don’t share that natural personality trait. Like probably most people, I’ve been tempted to lie or cheat for a wide variety of reasons (desire to win, vanity, fear, etc) and do my best to do the right thing (though certainly not without screwups over the years).

        As you said, you completely lack that part of your brain which honestly seems really strange to me, since it seems like such a natural human inclination. My bet would be you would have to ask a huge number of people to find someone with a similar psychological makeup.

        I would imagine, like you hinted, it may have created a lot of problems over the years. I would think you would probably lack empathy for that inclination the same way a normal person doesn’t quite understand a gambling addict (I don’t know if that’s a great analogy, best I could think of on the fly). For example, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to turn in a class for cheating. I’d most likely mind my own business and go on with my day. One, I wouldn’t have felt quite the same moral outrage (I don’t know if I necessary think you have an obligation to turn them in), but I also would have felt social pressure not to ostracize myself from my peers.

        • Ang

          I relate to this quite a bit (especially as it relates to your social proof example) – but then it also comes full circle with Joshua’s comments about how most people (say, you and I, even if we’re part of the outstanding demographics that make up this site) are subject to a lot of mental biases. Rationalism might have been picked up earlier in life by Joshua than the rest of us because he had the predisposed temperament and family values to which rationalism appeals

  • pax north

    I believe the quote “Hustlers of the world beware. There is one mark you cannot beat, the mark inside” (William S Burroughs) would be appropriate here.

  • Tracy Oguni

    I can’t stand lying too, but in my case it’s that I can’t stand to lie. It hurts mentally. I find myself in situations where I want to, but doing it still throws me off. I’d struggle with the decision for days before and after.

    I’m different from you in that I don’t mind if other people do it to me as long as it doesn’t impede my ability to function. As an example, I’m currently taking two classes where my teammates lie about doing work they haven’t done. They do it all the time. I think it’s odd – how hard can it be to not say you’ve done work that you haven’t done when it won’t even be due for two weeks?! But the only part of it that truly bothers me is when they show up the day the assignment is due and turn in an assignment that doesn’t work and we all get a bad grade.

    I’ve been thinking that they’re just deficient in some way – perhaps as a result of a lack of emphasis on honesty in their home or culture. It never occurred to me till just now that I’m the odd one.

  • Daniel Thompson

    Thank you for making this website and the one about personal finance. I am very inspired by both, and this article hit home, because I casually lie all the time.