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By Sam Harris
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Lying by Sam Harris

Lying (2011) explains why the act of telling lies is so dangerous. And that means all lies, from the tiny lies that people tell on a daily basis to the massive lies sometimes told on the world stage. All in all, it’s always better to tell the truth.

Key idea 1 of 5

There are two types of lie; neither should be told.

Remember being told never to tell lies as a child? No one wants to be dubbed a liar, and while most people wouldn’t dare tell a monumental lie, many often tell little lies that they perceive to be insignificant.

The majority of people avoid big lies because of the disastrous effects they can have. Such lies can end careers or result in jail time, can ruin a person’s life or even throw entire societies into disarray.

Despite the detrimental effects of big lies, governments and the wider media continue to spread them. This has created a general feeling of distrust toward world leaders on a global scale. For instance, justification for the Iraq War hinged, in large part, on a lie; the Bush administration claimed that the country was hiding weapons of mass destruction – a claim that turned out to be untrue. This blatant deception caused many people to become skeptical of foreign policy in the United States.

Funnily enough, little lies are usually not regarded with the same moral rectitude. In fact, people generally think such lies are okay, since they’re often used to spare the feelings of others. But white lies do damage, too.

Imagine a family getting ready to host guests for a week. Prior to the guests’ arrival, the husband says to his wife in the presence of their young daughter that he wishes they weren’t coming to stay. The guests arrive and thank the man for his hospitality, and he chirpily responds that he’s happy to see them – but his daughter pipes up and repeats what he said earlier.

This clearly puts the man in an awkward position. He can’t say that he’s not happy to see his guests; however, denying what he previously said also sets a bad example for his child. If he had welcomed his guests in more ambiguous terms – by say something like “That’s why we have guest rooms!” – this whole situation could have been avoided.

Little lies may have less of an impact than big lies, but, in the long run, they can also have devastating results.

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