Monday, October 15, 2012

Why Do People Lie?

Language: the tool that separates humans from all other creatures.  Some animals may have the capacity to communicate through sounds or other means, but people have a unique aptitude for speech.  Their vocal chords enable them to articulate their thoughts in an incredibly specific and often complicated manner.
Language comes in all shapes and sizes.  Language varies by region and heritage; it consists of letters, words, and sometimes, even signs.  Language is both spoken and written.  The alphabet, vocabulary, and syntax used are different throughout all groups of people.
Beyond the basics of language, our understanding is complicated by its constant progression.  New words are introduced, definitions shift, and cultures mix—our rhetoric is always evolving.  It is difficult enough to understand language without any additional obstacles.
Words are a powerful tool.  There’s a saying that goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  That statement is false.  Words can bring both joy and despair.  Used carefully, they can help people in need, and further the success of any cause or individual.  Used poorly, they can ruin lives, or put a damper on something that was otherwise beautiful.
The problem is that many people do not know how to use their language properly—they abuse their power to speak.  From insults, to sarcasm, and even libel, there are countless ways to do wrong with words.  Perhaps the most interesting and classic example is lying.
Why do people lie?  There are seemingly a million reasons, but they boil down to a few common themes.  Often, people are simply afraid of the truth, or more importantly, its consequences.  If the truth is incriminating or embarrassing, it can seem disadvantageous to make it known unnecessarily.  If lying can save someone from experiencing something they’d rather not, it is an attractive alternative to telling the truth.  There is also the notion of a selfless lie, or white lie. Many argue that if a lie is doing someone else good, and has no negative consequences, it is okay.
So are there, in fact, situations when lying is okay?  The easiest argument to make is that lies are okay as long as no one is getting hurt; if a lie is only doing good and no bad, then there’s no problem.  This argument is all well and good, except for the fact that it is hardly, or maybe never, true.  Even a white lie conceals facts that might seem unnecessary in the short term, but in the long term might be helpful in fixing a problem, rather than simply covering it up.
A slightly different approach might be to weigh each lie.  If the pros outweigh the cons, then the lie is worthwhile. This method opens a door that forces people to take new factors into account, including perspective, and the subjectivity of what is better.  Should society rely on individuals to decide what is right and wrong, better and worse, for the entire population?
In America, citizens enjoy the liberty of free speech.  It is up to them to use their judgment when they speak and accept the consequences once they’ve been heard.  Whether lying is right or wrong, it exists, and it’s certainly not going away.  It is a phenomenon that people must constantly be wary of.  As the vastly overused Spiderman saying goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  Humans enjoy the blessing of speech and its merits every day—they must also bear the burden of using it in a way that does less harm than good.