An attempt to understand ‘Why we lie’

I picked up this book ‘Why we lie’ by clinical psychologist Dorothy Rowe because, well, I lie. I was quite a chronic liar when I was young, telling fibs to my parents about not given school homework and cooking up excuses about lost homework for the teachers at the tender age of 7. I don’t remember anyone teaching me what lying was but I knew how to anyway (and as Rowe explained, if you know what the truth is, you would know how/what to lie). The painful thing to me is that even after growing up, I still lie, whether unconsciously, or worse, consciously. I wondered if it was a stronghold that I just couldn’t get rid of. God made it very clear in His word that lying is an abomination to Him, and I want to stop lying. I wanted to understand why I lie, in hope that if I could understand this ‘enemy’ within me, I could overcome it.

After completing the book, I’m not sure if I understood the reasons to the book title completely, but as Rowe puts it, it’s fundamentally an attempt to protect one’s sense of being a person. To prevent sense of self from falling apart, we lie. To borrow the words from the back of the book, “Why do we lie? Because we are frightened of being humiliated, being treated like an object, being rejected, losing control of things, and, most of all, we are frightened of uncertainty. Often we get our lies in before any of these things can happen. We lie to maintain our vanity. We lie when we call our fantasies the truth. Lying is much easier than searching for the truth and accepting it, no matter how inconvenient it is. We lie to others, and, even worse, we lie to ourselves.” Yes, what’s worse than lying to others is that we lie to ourselves, where we continue to delude ourselves with our fantasies and half-truths, because we can’t bear having to reconstruct our sense of being a person after something within us falls apart. And perhaps the biggest lie that resides in all of us is that because of our upbringing/education/race/beliefs/fill-in-your-own-blanks, we are superior to others.

As much as this book is written by a secular author and contains ideas that undermine faith systems, God used the book to reveal the conditions of my heart and drew me to Him. I realised that I could be true to myself and others and not live with the conflict of knowing that I put up a false front. That’s why during one of the Sunday heart preparation time before worship service, I chose to tell the two siblings sitting beside me that I was going through a period of sadness even though the worship leader exhorted us to share of our joys in the Lord. There was a certain joy at the back of my mind that I knew I could share, but it would only be a smoke-screen to conceal my sadness, but I decided that I didn’t need to nor did I want to. I wanted to be true before God and man. So I told them about how I felt. What followed was receiving words of encouragement from a sister and a brother having a discourse with me on faith. That was when I articulated having to deal with uncertainty in my walk with God and realising that going on this journey involves growing to be comfortable with the unknown and suspense.

Even though truth means trouble and is often painful, Rowe still puts forth the pragmatic stand that truth should be told and accepted because telling one lie often leads to the descent to a web of deceit and terrible consequences. I couldn’t find any allusion to morality in her book. But as a reader, from a Christian perspective, I know that truth should be told because God is a God of truth and He abhors lies and deceit; conversely, satan is known as the father of lies. In fact, satan tempted Adam and Eve with lies, casting doubts about God’s goodness and twisting the effect of disobedience when they eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (‘you will not surely die’). And from the Bible, we have the popular axiom ‘the truth will set you free.’ Truth liberates us from the shackles of the lies that we can be our own gods and save ourselves and that we do not have to suffer the consequence of our rebellion against God.

I would say that the book is a profoundly enlightening read as I realised that we are all liars in our different ways and that we don’t have to lie to protect ourselves. But it is also a very dangerous book for the religious reader because it questions the existence of absolute truth. Yet, God has used ideas from the book to help me discover more about my own lies, whether told to others or to myself, and to ask myself difficult questions on uncertainty and what I believe. I thank God that certain convictions have been strengthened and that I’m more willing to live with some uncertainties in life.

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