March 18, 2014

Why I Was Lied To - And Why You Were, Too

I wouldn't call myself a gullible person. I am fairly sceptical about a huge number of issues - religion, politics, and 'expert' opinions, to name a few. (Also astrology, psychic powers, fad diets, and celebrity endorsements... I could go on, but we'd be here for hours.) I am also fairly astute at reading people; I think that's one of the qualities one needs as a writer.

Having said that, however, I can be ridiculously trusting. And being trusting does not equate to being gullible, because being gullible is involuntary, whereas trusting is volitional. We make a decision to trust another person, and this trust may be warranted, or it may not.

My first instinct in the past has been to trust people until given reason not to. My one-time therapist once told me that I was an eternal optimist, and that I liked to see the best in human nature. My own suspicion is that it had something to do with anxiety; I wanted to believe that people were trustworthy and good, because it was too upsetting and confronting to believe otherwise.

However, a long time has passed since that particular conversation. I am 45 now, and I know better. Some people are worthy of trust, and some absolutely are not. Trust has to be earned, not bestowed as a right.

I've been reading the 'Liespotting' by Pamela Meyer, after having stumbled upon her TED talk on the same subject. Meyer has devoted years to researching how to lies, and I'm finding her book absolutely fascinating.

One point she raises in her talk, and quite early in the book, is the nature of co-operation.

No-one can lie to you without your approval. the liar and the recipient participate in a fabric of mythmaking together. A lie does not have power by its utterance - its power lies in someone agreeing to believe the lie.

Now, I don't believe that statement is true all of the time (see? I told you I was sceptical about expert opinions). There are some people who are so brilliant at deception that even their partners can't pick the lies. The guy who loses his job and hides it for a year, or the compulsive gambler who covers his debts until the point of bankruptcy.

But for most of us, I think, her point is absolutely valid. When I look back at the times I've been lied to - either in relationships ("Yes, I am totally free to date") or in work ("The piece is great, it's just not right for us") or by salespeople ("That top looks amazing on you!") - I have totally chosen to believe the lie. I have chosen to believe the lie because that's what I wanted to hear. I wanted the person to be free to date. I wanted to believe that my article was brilliant. And I wanted to believe that the top looked amazing, despite my strong suspicion that it was ill fitting and the wrong colour.

We choose to believe a lot of the lies that we are told. We choose to believe them because we don't want to believe otherwise, because we want everything to be nice and happy in our world. But this is an important revelation, because it gives us so much more power. When we are aware of our own willingness to be coercive with deception, we can make sure we are seeing the truth and not what we want to see. And in this way, with more clarity, we can take more control over our relationships and our lives.

I still believe in trust, and there are several people in my life I trust implicitly with my love, my secrets, my children, my life. But I know now that trust has to be earned, not offered, and that I am responsible for making that call.



  1. I think the biggest step towards spotting untruthfulness in others is being rigorous about naming it in yourself. Yes, people lie to us all the time, for good and bad reasons, mostly (because I, too, am an optimist) on little matters. But you're right, we only buy it when we want to. Which means we are first lying to ourselves. When we stop making excuses to ourselves for ourselves or for others, it's easier to see what's real. And when you work out how to do that reliably (stop making excuses), can you let me know? ;)

  2. As Homer Simpson said: "It takes two to lie. One to lie, and one to listen."

    I try not to lie. If anything, I can be too honest with people, and sometimes I don't sugar-coat the truth. Some people react well to that, some don't. It's difficult to judge sometimes how people will react to being truthful.

    Maybe that's why we lie, and maybe that's why we let people lie to us. Maybe it's easier, sometimes, to lie to each other and just go along with the lie.

    I think I may be more cynical than you Kerri - I suspect I have a good bull-shit detector - but I also think that means I don't trust people as much as you do. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing...

    It's all such a balancing act...

  3. Benita (Missbenben)March 18, 2014 at 11:03 AM

    You know what I love about your writing? It's so thought provoking. You make people stop and think about what you've written. And that's no lie (boom, tish etc...)

    I'm glad I read this. I've spent my entire life thinking I was gullible (yes, I've fallen for that ridiculous joke where someone comes and tells you that the word "gullible" has been removed from the dictionary. Haw haw....) but in hindsight I think I am trusting to a fault. Because I WANT to trust that person. I have had people very close to me lie (or exaggerate the truth) and I've turned a blind eye because to face the reality that the person is being untrue is too confronting.

    I shall now be thinking about this all day. My pledge to finish my assignment just went out the window. Thanks xx

  4. Hmm. Let me think about what I do.

    I do tend to trust people until they give me a reason not to. (And it drives me nuts that my husband is the opposite - everything with him must be earned. Which is exhausting.)

    That said, I do have a finely tuned BS radar. So while I am inherently trusting ... and do like to believe the best of people ... if you set my radar off, then not only do you need to earn my trust, you're going to have to work very hard at it!

  5. Lana (Sharpest Pencil)March 18, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    I am brilliant at reading people - stick with me. But you know that already xxxxxx

  6. there once was a Mumma who was a little too fond of white lies … like the wonderful writer above, she suffered anxiety and often found telling the unvarnished truth too stressful. there once was a Mumma who found out that her children had been watching her a little more than she thought, and the pain of learning one of her children was using this skill against her was agonising. now said child is learning how hard it is to climb back when trust has been broken.

    and so now the Mumma is making a policy of ditching the white lies … because they always, without fail, come back to bite you on the bum. xt

  7. I believe I have fairly good instincts and my gut feelings usually turn out to be right. This both helps and hinders me. Helps in that I don't trust people and hinders for the same reason.

  8. My gut instincts tend to be pretty good in business but have let me down in romantic relationships, where I do tend to 'want' to believe what I'm being told. But, when you're smacked in the face by deception (and one you NEVER picked until it smacked you in the face) I think it really does change you and how you look at the world / other people. Even so, I cling fiercely to my fundamental need to believe that *most* people are good :)

  9. Trust no-one until they do something to prove that they are trustworthy.

  10. Very interesting stuff. I know someone who is always telling white lies and always choosing to believe them when the situation is reversed (usually people who this person has taught to do as they do). It drives me up the wall! I found out this person lied to my 2 year old recently. A TWO YEAR OLD. I think it definitely takes two in a lot of situations (although not ALL as you have pointed out). People want to believe that their children did the right thing, that their husbands really were staying back at work late, that he/she truly is sorry and won't do it again, that they are being promoted based on their merit and not because the boss is hoping to get a leg over.
    I'm terrible because I can spot a lie from a million miles away and I won't stand for it. It makes my life harder (going against those who want to tell or believe the lies and who will fight with me about it because I'm making THEIR lives harder), but I'm glad I am bullshit intolerant.
    There is no excuse for being a chicken sh*t. Honesty truly is the best policy and it separates the wheat from the chaffe or whatever that saying is. There's always a most gentle or appropriate way to tell the truth and those who choose to lie are just scared and not living their best lives (sorry to get a bit Oprah there).

  11. I always know when my kids lie. They think I'm psychic, but the truth is that they really can't do shifty. I hope they never learn.
    Great blog, as always. xxxx

  12. For me, I have to believe that everyone is coming from a good place. Even if I don't agree with their actions I understand that they are making the best decisions for them at that given point in time. This can be challenging to remember sometimes, especially when there are so many examples of people doing terrible things to one another but ultimately we all arrive at a particular point in life for a reason. Looking behind their actions is quite fascinating I think.

  13. "You look amazing. Eat the cake."
    "You've had three kids. You deserve some cake."
    "This cake is made of air. Eat it with merry abandon."

    Top 3 fave lies that I will never tire of believing.


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