Everybody Lies. All the Time. Always

by F.

Some people are even making a business out of this fact—trying to school companies in "radical honesty." For instance, Peter LaFontaine. He outlines the five most common lies in business, which are:

(1) "People are our most important asset;"
(2) "This was a rational decision;"
(3) "We judge people by their performance;"
(4) "This is business, it isn't personal;" and
(5) "The customer comes first."

If you've ever worked in a successful company, you probably recognize these plattitudes, and you probably also recognize they are lies. Another writer on this topic is Brad Blanton. His website is interesting.

What does one do, if anything, about it? First, recognize that this is The Way It Is and don't get upset about it. It is a fact, like gravity. Second, in any particular situation, ask why you're being told what you are being told.

In drama, there is an idea of the "scene objective." In other words, when an actor comes on stage to do a scene in a play, they have an objective in that scene. They want something, or want to avoid something. The scene objective might be "to confront Billy about the stolen candy" or "to rob the bank." Similarly in real life. People say things for reasons, unconscious or not. The particular reason could be "to bond" or "to command" or "to frighten."

Even gossip or chit-chat—which seems completely inane—has a purpose. You're at work and you strike up a conversation with someone about something stupid, like baseball. The goal is bonding. It's not the exchange of information. This is why men have the same conversation about sports 10 or 15 times a day—"Did you see they traded Rodriguez to Tampa?" "Yeah!" And so on. I'm sure there is a female equivalent.

Here's an example. In today's Financial Times there's an editorial by Michael Dell about how the so-called Third World needs computer technology in order to foster growth in productivity. Currently, there is a shortage. Something needs to be done. Now, that's a laudible goal—computers for the less-developed nations. Why is Michael Dell exhorting readers of the FT to bring technology to the third world? Because he wants to sell that technology. Now, he never mentions that in his article—he spins it as an editorial about how the Third World needs computers to increase living standards. In other words, he lies.

Does this mean Michael Dell is a bad guy? No. Does this mean that one can't do good and do well at the same time? No—not at all. What is shows is that this kind of lying is endemic. As I said, it is probably necessary. But if you forget that it is happening all the time, always, you can do foolish things.

A related piece of common sense is the maxim, "Consider the Source," i.e., of a piece of information, gossip, etc. All sources lie or shade the truth. The interesting questions are (i) in what way and (ii) how much do they do so.