[OUTLOOK]Examine lies more closelyGenerally, people tend to think they are not good at lying. However, psychologists say that we are, in fact, far better liars than we think. If we expand the boundary of lies further, people tell lies almost constantly. We tell lies to maintain our social relationships almost naturally. When we run into someone after a long while, we say, “Let’s have lunch together,” or, “Let’s get together for a drink,” without really meaning to meet again. When you receive a present you don’t really want, you still say, “Oh, I have always wanted to have this.”
Surprisingly, the ability to deceive others or tell lies appears in the early stage of our lives. A one-year-old baby does not cry very much when he tumbles over when alone. However, when the baby knows the mother is watching, he exaggerates the pain and cries out loudly. In terms of adaptation, the ability to tilt a given situation to your advantage can help you make your way through the world, and therefore, to a certain degree, lies are considered to be a rule of life in modern days.
However, is manipulating a situation or telling lies to your advantage necessarily a desirable trait for social adaptation? There are many kinds of lies. When you are confused, you tell lies on impulse to escape the situation and without any malicious intent. You might tell lies out of vanity to make yourself look better. Some lies are out of necessity to save face or make an excuse. There are even those with malicious intent to harm others, which are punishable. Moreover, some lies even become the roots of mental diseases. Patients suffering from paranoia, schizophrenia or other personality disorders often have a tendency to testify with conviction to something that did not happen, or hiding or distorting something that actually took place.
According to Niccolo Machiavelli, tactics and lies are inevitable elements of human nature. Thus, the Machiavellian tendency is the characteristic of manipulating and exploiting personal relationships. As one with the Machiavellian tendency exercises influence on others without exposing his intention, it is often regarded as competitive in modern society. Research results even found that those with high Machiavellian tendencies displayed successful sales performances. The biggest feature of the Machiavellian tendency is a talent for lying without being detected. Machiavellian characters have a strong conviction that their lies are the truth, and therefore, show no sign of anxiety or nervousness when telling the lie. Therefore, people are easily deceived by this type of person. Moreover, Machiavellian characters do not feel any compunction for their lies and have a tendency of handing the responsibility over to society or other people. Although their triumph might not last long, they often achieve considerable professional success in their time as they are equipped with persuasive and eloquent speech and an egoistic sense of superiority and confidence. An interesting fact is that recent research found that psychopathic criminals showed a high Machiavellian tendency. Psychologically, a psychopath does not suffer from a guilty conscience and has no empathy towards other people. The trait can be found in notoriously brutal offenders that have shocked society.
The lies we tell so easily can change our character, make us criminals and cause our society ill. Do we want our society to be a place where good liars succeed? Do we want to live in a society where lies are a part of the customs and culture? If not, let’s look back on the untruthful thoughts and behaviors we think so trivial. We might have casually told lies without realizing that it was wrong to lie. We might have been too tolerant of others’ lies. Let’s once again examine if society is getting too used to small and large lies.
As the country is having a hard time because of lies, we need to be more uncompromising about our own and other people’s lies.
*The writer is a professor of psychology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kwak Keum-joo