On Deceit

     A huge number of people are running around who are determined to deceive others about something. It’s not news to any Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch that systematic deceit has become the hallmark of our politics. What’s on my mind this morning is the pervasiveness of deceit in ordinary life.

     Spouses lie to one another. Parents and children lie to one another. Neighbors, too. Coworkers? Of course. Employees and their supervisors? Guaranteed. Merchants and customers? More often than not.

     Deceit need not be spoken. It can come in a number of forms. But the motivation is always one of two: To acquire or achieve something desirable, or to avert an unpleasant possibility. As those are the motivations behind all human action, that should come as no surprise. It’s the details that make the question interesting.

     The deceiver might be able to attain his aim without deceit. Indeed, that’s quite often the case. It’s just that the price of getting there honestly is higher than he’s willing to pay. So he employs a deceit to lower it.

     For deceit to be as commonplace as it is today is incompatible with a high-trust society. As the loss of America’s previous high-trust society has been a frequent topic of discussion lately, the contemporary pervasiveness of deceit must be considered as well. Is one a response to the other, or did they arise concurrently in response to some other group of factors…and does the answer have any practical significance?


     I’m a writer, not a sociologist. I don’t write books about social forces and trends, however fascinating I may find them. Don’t expect me to produce a major treatise on deceit as a shaping force in the Twenty-First Century. The essays I post here must suffice. They seldom have volume enough to address the whole of an important subject. Indeed, the more important the subject, the less likely it can be done justice in a couple of thousand words.

     Today’s emission will focus on one of the most poignant motivations behind deceit: the desire to keep the peace.

     Consider the old domestic chestnut that begins, “Honey, does this make me look fat?” There are only two answers to that question, and neither of them is compatible with domestic peace. He knows she worries about her figure. He also knows that advancing age is the enemy of the “pin-up norm.” Rare is the woman who gets to keep a sleek hourglass shape all the way into her senior years.

     But he wants to keep the peace. What, then? He can’t pretend that he didn’t hear her. “No” may not be satisfactory. “Yes” will precipitate unpleasantness whose magnitude and duration cannot be predicted. If he thinks fast, he might be able to come up with an essentially truthful circumlocution that will satisfy her, but there’s always the possibility that such a reply will offend her in some other way.

     That’s merely one scenario. There are innumerable others. Indeed, many of the lies politicians tell are moved by a desire to keep the peace, especially when there’s a large, surly crowd close by.

     There’s one’s inner peace to consider, as well. Many of the lies we tell ourselves are moved by the need to quiet one’s conscience. “It’s only a few dollars’ worth of office supplies. Besides, everybody does it.” Heard that one? If you haven’t, pray tell, where is your cave and how long have you lived there?

     Here’s another of an increasingly important sort: “I can’t help you.” That might be true, but there are a staggering number of cases in which it’s not. If Jones, who’s currently in need, asks for Smith’s help, Smith faces a choice. Is he really unable to help Jones, or is he merely unwilling? And should he choose to say “I can’t” when what he really means is “I won’t,” which of them is the principal object of his deceit?

     It says something about our milieu that we must lie so often to remain tranquil.


     No doubt you’re wondering what brings this subject to the top of my thoughts this morning. It’s a recent interaction with a dear friend, another writer who asked me to join an online writers’ group. She made plain that it was very important to her that I do so, though she didn’t give me her reasons. As it happens, according to the bylaws for the group, I don’t qualify for membership; never mind the details. So I faced a choice: to placate my friend and join under false pretenses, or to decline and tell her why, come what may?

     I didn’t lie to her; I told her that in good conscience I could not do as she asked, and gave her my reasons for my decision. By doing so I may have sundered a friendship of long duration and great importance to me. In the process it came to me how often we are asked to lie to preserve others’ expectations of us. For my friend believed that I would accommodate her. She believed something about me that isn’t so, but that I had permitted her to believe by never contradicting her when the subject arose. I shattered her opinion of me by cleaving to the truth.

     Honesty will often demand a price that strains one to pay. It’s the sort of dilemma many will face at some point in their lives. It’s worth a few moments’ thought…and a lot of prayer.

     May God bless and keep you all.


    • OneGuy on July 30, 2023 at 11:28 AM

    Years ago when my coming of age and choosing a military career coincided I made a conscious decision to lead an honest and moral life.  I assume most people do this.  But I often found that my honesty and morality placed me at odds with friends and fellow service members especially on the little things that most people are willing to compromise on.  One day, later in my career a friend at the gym commented on a great party the previous night, to which I half jokingly replied “gee, I wasn’t invited”.  She immediately said of course not your known as a “Boy Scout” and no one would ever invite you to a party where pot might be used.  I was a little surprised but I suppose I shouldn’t have been and I could easily recall many events that friends attended that I only heard about afterwards.  But that comes with the territory and I decided to embrace it happily.

    • Evil Franklin on July 31, 2023 at 11:54 AM

    Honesty is still the best policy. Sometimes, however, honesty can be couched.

    “Am I fat?” “Honey, that outfit does make you look fat.”

    “Darling, do you like my new dress?” “Baby, I think you look much prettier in that other dress.”

    “Does this outfit make my rear look fat?” “Yes dear, but then I’ve always loved your rear.”

    Evil Franklin

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