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In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.

 

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November 3rd, 2010

Honesty vs. Faking It

 
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honesty-v-fakingit-flashI came across an interesting — if not a bit confusing — podcast on the Freakonomics site: Stephen J. Dubner argues that between “Sea of Cheating and the valley of Lying, you’d come to the kingdom of Faking It.” A woman who keeps kosher, but loves to nibble on bacon when she’s out for brunch. A man who tells nosy colleagues about a fake desire to have children and a fictional membership in a local church. All for the sake of easing social situations.

Some would call these white lies. Others would call these out-right untruths. But I certainly wouldn’t call it “faking it.” Still, that quibble aside, Dubner writes:

Is all this faking a menace to society? Or do we all benefit from everyone else’s fakery? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

We all know it’s bad to lie, but we do it anyway. According to a 2008 study, the average person tells four lies each day-or nearly 100,000 in a lifetime. The most common lie is “I’m fine.” Other popular lies included “sorry I missed your call,” “our server was down,” “nice to see you,” and “I’ll call you back in a minute.” Also, apparently men lie more frequently.

So are these fibs “faking it” or lying? Does smoothing things over socially count as a Very Bad Thing?

To complicate things further, somewhere along the line, honesty became the antonym of politeness. Thinking of others’ feelings became a sign of being out of touch with your own-especially for young adults. To be honest means admitting how bad things are. If you are happy, perky or positive, you must be lying to yourself. Honesty has morphed “into the mockumentary tone of MSNBC and Comedy Central shows and others — as if anyone who claims to be doing good must be lying, and all sacred cows deserve to be torn down, disproven and laughed at,” Phil Fox Rose, of BustedHalo.com fame, recently told me.

This is a clear place where we need to define our terms: faking it vs. white lies vs. politeness vs. honesty. Thoughts?

 
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The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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  • Teresa Trujillo

    The slippery slope should be avoided. A comfort with small lies leads to a comfort with big lies and other deceptions.

    Insipid “how are you?” I often answer with–”I’ve had better days,” when that is the truth.

    Instead of asking someone a question I really don’t want to know the answer to–I’ve replaced “How are you?” with “It is nice to see you again.”

    Keeping it honest is keeping it real. Do I purposely hurt someone with a comment about their mode of dress or a subjective measure–rarely. “How do I look in this dress?” might be followed with, “You look happy in the dress.” It acknowledges the effort without commenting on a sense of style.

  • Theresa Henderson

    Because most people know I’m not well, I like to say “Much better now I see you!” It answers things in a positive way. And it is true because smiling people do give me a boost.

  • Matt

    I tend to draw the line at intent. If you’re acting to cause harm to an innocent person, or to avoid the negative consequences of your own action (or inaction) in the past, or to evade a future duty, or to acquire something that isn’t rightfully yours, it’s a “real” lie.

    But your most popular “lie”, for example, is “I’m fine”. Unless you’re talking to a doctor (or some other medical professional), you’d probably just cause unnecessary distress by telling the truth when “I’m fine” is false. It doesn’t improve your life, it doesn’t improve their life, and as annoying as it sometimes (often!) is that “polite conversation” involves asking questions to which the questioner does not actually want an honest answer, that seems to be just how the world works.

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