“Lying has a kind of respect and reverence with it. We pay a person the compliment of acknowledging his superiority whenever we lie to him.”
– Samuel Butler
What a fantastic quote. Something worth stopping and contemplating for a moment. A lie, really is an acquiescence of power, of deferral and perhaps most importantly of all, an expression of fear. Its self apparent when we think of our motivations for lying. Think back to being a child. Breaking a vase. If you lie, its because you think it will allow you to evade the impending punishment associated with your actions. We lie to authorities, not subordinates. More than that we lie to those authorities because we don’t have faith in them – we don’t believe they have our best interests in mind.
This is all true, but why is it so powerful to understand it? To state it so plainly? For this simple reason – to empathize with those who lie to you.
Give that a few moments to sink in…
“Lying has a kind of respect and reverence with it. We pay a person the compliment of acknowledging his superiority whenever we lie to him.“
Do you feel it now? A lie is, in a strange way a compliment, a form of recognition. Why do you think the government is so often accused of lying? Because ultimately we the people are in control. Even in a totalitarian regime, at the end of the day it is the masses who have the reigns of power, whether they realize it or not. The same goes for our personal relationships. When someone lies to you it is because they fear you, because you possess (or appear to possess) some sort of power over them and their interests. Lies are about disempowering the powerful.
But a lie is only a kind of respect, and not a particularly good one. It acknowledges your power, your superiority, but it isn’t grown from real respect. As we said it has more to do with fear. Real respect comes from knowing that though someone or something is superior to you, they have your best interests in mind as well. If you have faith in your boss, your parents or your partner, then you don’t need to lie, because no matter what happens they will have your back. Sometimes we don’t trust ourselves and then we can’t trust others, no matter how much we would like to. So we lie. To ourselves, and to them.
So. I will try to keep this in mind, and when I think someone is lying to me I will have a different perspective. I will understand that the reason they’re lying to me is because they don’t feel they can trust me. I will try to find a way to demonstrate to them that they can trust me. I will also ask myself if they trust themselves, because if they don’t, then there’s very little I can do.
There’s no reason to get angry at someone who is lying. Instead, accept the honor of being powerful in their eyes and do your best to live up to that standard, so that they can realize that lying isn’t necessary.