Lying (Kindle single) review
Posted on 2011-09-28 13:01:00
Tags: reviews books
Words: 363

LyingLying by Sam Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lying is a Kindle single whose thesis is simple: lying is (almost always) bad. In general I agree, but the book takes it to extremes where the argument is more interesting and harder to get behind:

- White lies (when getting a gift, for example). The example they give is for an ugly piece of clothing: you could say that you're touched the gifter thought of you, but "I don't think I can pull this off" or something. This sounds very hard to do in real life. The authors explain that you're eroding trust and integrity even if the gifter never discovers that you lied. Another example: if somebody asks "Do I look fat in this?" you can try to judge if they're actually asking or just seeking reassurance. A friend recently asked this and he responded "You're not fat, but you could probably stand to lose twenty-five pounds", which led to the friend going on a diet. This seems extremely situational and depends a lot on how close the friend is. They also give some horrific (to me) examples of lying to a family member about what their prognosis is. Don't do that!

- If someone asks for an opinion about a project they're working on, again it's best to be honest. If they've been working on a script and it's terrible, best to tell them early than have them waste more time on it. I agree with the principle here, but my conflict-avoiding nature would make it very hard to do this in practice.

- Lying to the enemy during wartime or as a spy is OK, but these are so far out of normal circumstances for most people that we shouldn't use them as the basis to draw conclusions for ourselves. (although it has the weird aside "that is, if we grant that espionage is necessary in today's world", which I think it pretty clearly is...)

Anyway, even though I don't agree with all of the conclusions, it was an interesting book and I'm going to try to be more honest in everyday life. We'll see how it goes!

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Comment from brittongregory:

What do they say about lying by omission, or lying in spirit but not technically?

Comment from gregstoll:

They briefly talk about lying by omission, but focus on lies of commission. (although they say most of what they cover applies to omissive(?) lies as well)

I don't think they call out the "lying in spirit but not technically" case specifically in the book.

Comment from ext_809990:

I've worked on eliminating lies from both of those 2 categories in my life. I've found the results liberating..but a bit of a double edged sword. The result tends to be that people say "he tells it like it is" or "he's an jackass". Bottom line is some people appreciate the transparency and honesty, and they will value it while others don't and they will avoid you like the plague :)

It's actually a really tough thing to stick to, and I've lost friends over it, but every time I feel like I did the right thing. When someone asks my opinion or for my advice...even if they are just looking for reassurance, then I am going to give them my honest opinion and viewpoint even if it isn't what they want to hear.

Comment from gregstoll:

Yeah...the book focused on the liberating-ness and not the people who won't appreciate it. You might call that a lie of omission. (but probably not :-) )

I guess it's encouraging that it's possible without losing all of one's friends.

Comment from ext_809990:

I found that more people appreciate it than immediately drop friendship. The kinds of things that cause a friendship cut off are religion, sexual orientation, etc...and generally people who can't handle honesty in those areas don't start as great friends to begin with. Though the once instance I can think of where it broke off a friendship for me was relationship advice mixed with religion ;)

The lying by omission is interesting. I have that sort of dynamic going with my family. If they asked if I was still religious I wouldn't lie, but I don't advertise it. I'm pretty sure they all know by now, and they just know not to ask if they don't want to hear it. It's like the don't ask/don't tell policy for family and friendly acquaintances. (You can decide what it says about me that I lump family and friendly acquaintances in the same bucket)

Comment from djedi:

That is interesting. My take with my family is often also DADT as well. Honestly, for real questions, I know more often than not, I'd prefer diplomatic constructive criticism than pity lies. Especially at work and such I usually prefer feedback.

I wouldn't mind some liberation in my life. I feel like I overly avoid conflict less by lying and more by working hard to find common ground and/or eliminating that topic of conversation from my interaction with that person...mostly family.

I think the problems with eliminating white lies is that most of the time it's really not worth being blunt. Being diplomatic might be better than out-right lying, but still. If someone gets me a bedspread that I end up not liking, do I need to advertise that to them? What are the odds that they are going to think I love it and thus constantly buy me MORE bedspreads with the same design???

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