Thursday, May 31, 2012

Big lies or little lies, which are more dangerous? Which are more common?

All of this means that, although it is obviously important to pay attention to flagrant misbehaviors, it is probably even more important to discourage the small and more ubiquitous forms of dishonesty—the misbehavior that affects all of us, as both perpetrators and victims. This is especially true given what we know about the contagious nature of cheating and the way that small transgressions can grease the psychological skids to larger ones.

We want to install locks to stop the next Bernie Madoff, the next Enron, the next steroid-enhanced all-star, the next serial plagiarist, the next self-dealing political miscreant. But locking our doors against the dishonest monsters will not keep them out; they will always cheat their way in. It is the woman down the hallway—the sweet one who could not even carry away your flat-screen TV if she wanted to—who needs to be reminded constantly that, even if the door is open, she cannot just walk in and "borrow" a cup of sugar without asking.

A culture of deception that traffics in little lies and misrepresentations can become the garden in which the  big liars have room to spin their yarns. Some people have told me I'm honest to a fault and I don't know if I should believe them.  I worry that if I delude myself about something how could I possibly avoid misrepresenting reality to others?  What some people may consider a lack of confidence I would consider a desire to be honest.

At You Are Not So Smart there's a recent podcast that discusses the "illusion of knowledge".  This is an illusion that builds up from a plethora of impressive-sounding but ultimately meaningless or obfuscating details that are delivered in a confident way.  If someone declares something confidently enough you trust the person is telling the truth even if they're lying.  They may be lying about just a few small details but those lies will be enough to convince you they actually know what they're talking about.

The big lie about something that's false is often not where the most deadly and pervasive deception is. The  big lie is a lifestyle of tiny self-justifying lies.  The curious thing about both the serpent and a Berean is that we could say they both have the question, "Did God really say ... ?"

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