Why So Many Want to Be Lied To

What makes people want to be lied to?

The presidential election is an obvious example. The candidate ahead in most of the polls is a woman most of the same people polled regard as a liar.

It happens in everyday life too. People get mad if you tell them the truth about how they look, or how they did. They don’t want the truth, in many cases. They’d rather feel good. The faulty premise here? If I tell you that you did well, then it means you did well. It’s the opposite of the true idea that talk is cheap, and facts override talk every time. To a lot of people, happy talk is all they want, and once they get it, they’re satisfied. Facts be damned.

To understand why so many people want to be lied to, consider what the lie accomplishes — subjectively. It’s important to add “subjectively,” because the motivation is not usually rational. Just because something feels good does not make it right, good or even self-interested, but it doesn’t stop people from feeling good, just the same.

You’ve heard the expression “follow the money.” And money is one reason people want to lie or be lied to, when they believe it will pay them something. But there are many other forms of payment, too. One is flattery. Another is approval from peers, family or community. Another is an irrational expectation that one should be perfect at all times. Approval reassures the nervous person that all is well.

Politicians provide a great illustration of why people want to be lied to. Notice that the lying politicians are the same ones who promise to keep increasing spending on various and sundry goods and services. For a while, it was health care. Now it’s college tuition. Once that’s nationalized, it will be something else.

Imagine if a politician ran for office saying, “You’re all a bunch of fools. If I’m elected, I’m pulling the plug on everything the government does, other than police and military. Social Security and Medicare will be phased out and privatized for the younger generations, while the private economy will be permitted to profit and soar so they can find jobs and opportunity today.” How many votes would that politician get? Probably close to zero. Yet the politicians we all know as liars promise us the moon to the tune of $20 trillion dollars ($65 trillion in debt in ten years, some say), and as much as we complain, we keep electing them.

There’s a parallel track in the psychology and therapy fields. A lot of people go to therapists asking, “Can you motivate me to do such-and-such”? My response usually goes, “How badly do you want such-and-such?” For example, let’s say somebody drops out of medical or law school. “I know I could do it, but I just didn’t have the motivation. How can I get motivation?” People talk about motivation as if it’s something you can acquire without effort. But motivation is not magic. It just refers to wanting something badly enough to work for it. When someone tells me they weren’t motivated I usually correct them by saying, “So you didn’t really want it all that much, did you?” This, of course, makes a lot of people mad. They don’t like the implication that it’s their own choices that led to their disappointments. They’d rather think it was something or someone else. “Motivation” seems like a reasonable enough excuse. It’s a rare person who appreciates the kind of candor or honesty I give them when I say, “So you didn’t want it badly enough.” Gratitude for candor is rare, because, as I’m contending, most people would rather be lied to, and lie to themselves all the time.

In politics, as elsewhere, people want to believe they can have something for nothing. Many have a chip on their shoulder and feel entitled to a break, even if means harming others and ultimately themselves. That’s OK. They’d rather hold on to the fantasy.

It often starts in childhood. I cringe whenever I hear a daddy or mommy say to their child, “There, there. Everything will work out. I promise.” Even most kids probably sense the BS or lying in such a statement. And if they don’t, they learn soon enough. Adults should not be promising kids something they’re unable or unwilling to deliver. It’s better to say the truth, even if the truth consists of, “I’m worried too. But I’m also confident it might turn out ok.” Kids are listening really hard, and we have to make sure we really mean what we say!

And then there’s the myth of Santa Claus. I’m all for holiday celebration. But to lie to your kids and tell them that there’s a selfless man, who has tireless elves working for him 24/7, to provide endless gifts to children at Christmas … it’s just not right. Children should be taught to enjoy the giving and receiving of gifts, but also to develop a comprehension of where material plenty comes from; and it sure isn’t Santa Claus!

Lies are, sadly, like drugs. While not everyone succumbs, a lot of people do. Life is admittedly hard, and for some life can be very hard, even through no fault of their own, in many cases. But that still doesn’t make the case for lying. We are all vulnerable and, let’s face it, none of us are getting out alive. To me, that’s all the more reason to be honest with others and, most of all, with yourself. It’s only with 20/20 “mental vision” that you can expect to enjoy all the great potential life has to offer.

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