Woohoo! Sam Harris!
Hey everybody, you’re here to improve your life, tactically and philosophically, through books with us and this week’s book is:
Lying by Sam Harris.
Everyone’s favorite modern philosopher wrote this book to uphold one of our most popular maxims, in all cases, honesty is the best policy.
We’re gonna see,
How honesty is not just good for society, but good for us as individuals
The deeper implications of lying and honesty on culture
And why you should tell her she Does look bad in that dress.
So, what are three things we can use from this book?
3 Things You Can Use
1. Honesty is Good
To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication. People lie because they want others to form beliefs that are not true.
I might tell you that I didn’t eat the last cookie or Maddi might tell you that she is a world-renowned physicist.
We say these things to gain some perceived advantage or to avoid some potential disadvantage.
But Sam posits that lies inevitably always make us worse off, and that without lies we may have much better and at the least much less embarrassing lives.
The obvious reason, that we hear often enough, is that the more we lie, the more we have to keep up with, the more we have to maintain our more and more complicated fantasy world for everyone else and that this fantasy world takes a lot of mental bandwidth and eventually crumbles due to our own limitations or to the scrutiny of those we’re trying to lie to.
So you might say that honesty is the best policy because it protects those around us, because they will get, according to our perceptions, the most factual information.
That is to say, honesty is good because we can’t create chaos in the world by having everyone wondering and questioning who took the cookie, when you lie that it wasn’t you.
Total honesty sounds good for society because it makes the bad guy tell us that he is bad. But that means that the individual bad guy is worse off then, right? Because people now won’t let him get away with taking their cookies anymore. He’s down on dishonest cookies.
But it’s also good for the bad guy because if the bad guy is honest with himself, and knows he will be honest with others, he will have no choice but to improve for the sake of his health, socially and personally. To stop stealing cookies.
So being honest with yourself and others leads to less chaos externally and more growth personally, and thus, a win-win for yourself and humanity.
2. Deeper Implications
“Yes,” says the bus driver, answering Sam’s question as he gets on the bus.
Sam nods and makes his way to an empty seat.
After two hours of what was supposed to be a one hour trip, he begins to question the response of the bus driver and asks other passengers on the bus. “Is this bus headed to Haldwani?”
“Yes,” they all say and Sam Harris is assured anew.
But by the third hour, Sam realizes he is on the wrong bus and is now multiple hours from his destination.
He learned later that it was considered rude in this part of India to contradict another person’s stated beliefs. The people on the bus didn’t want to offend him by telling him he was on the wrong bus.
In this part of India, in Japan and in many other places, there are some cultural norms that condone dishonesty or atleast don’t expect the truth in all situations. But, as Sam notes, quote, “The way a culture treats questions of honesty and dishonesty will largely determine the psychological distance between self and other as well as friend and stranger,” end quote.
Which is to say that without open honesty there will always be a barrier between you and whoever you are being false with, which limits how close you can get with friends, colleagues, or with the rest of the society, not to mention the mass-propagation of false information and expectations implicit in these anti-candor set-ups.
If everyone is lying, people A) obviously can’t trust each other in these lie-prone domains and B) develop false expectations of how they are supposed to feel or think about certain things when everyone around them is lying about how they feel or think about these things.
And, speaking of culture, think of how damaging it is when you know your government or your favorite companies to have lied. Just as in relationships, you destroy the trust of your citizens and your customers, forever affecting those relationships for the worse and applying to yourself a veneer of disgust.
And so, we all tell lies, playing our games of advantage that we learn from everyone around us – the government, the culture and our social groups, sparing us from a life of relative ease, trust, health and a more knowledgeable population.
But, if you are the kind of weirdo that wants a healthier, easier and more respectable life, and honest behavior is possible in your culture, then honesty is the initially bumpy but inevitably smooth path to this lifestyle.
3. You Look Bad
“Honey, does this dress make me look fat?”
“It sure does.”
White lies are not any better of lies. They are not in all cases morally superior to the other forms of lying. Sometimes, they are the most damning.
Your friend asks you to look at their screenplay. Its pretty bad.
If you wave them onward, trying to protect their feelings and telling them it is good, what you are really doing is sealing their fate of annihilation — or atleast embarrassment, when they go to show it to someone who has an actual vested interest.
“No honey, you don’t look fat,” as an answer, when she does look fat, makes your partner believe that she is looking good, ready to meet with her friends or colleagues or speak at the event, when really she is creating a less-than perception of herself to the people in her group.
Obviously you don’t answer with, “sorry, did you just moo at me?” You have to be tactful and respectful, but if you give an honest answer, “maybe you should wear that other dress I like,” it is enough to leave an impression that will not only improve her night but may influence her to take better care of herself moving forward.
We’re not good friends if we smile and wave them onward. We are declining to help them, denying them useful information and setting them up for future disappointment.
You might say for the screenplay, “I like the storyline but the characters and their interactions could be improved.” If the criticism is valid, it is what they need, what we all need to help us find our way in the world.
Not to mention that lying, even on small scales, damages relationships and trust.
And when your friend gets denied a contract for their screenplay they might remember that you thought it was good, giving them the impression that you have bad judgement. Though on the other hand, if you criticised, and they improve, they can trust that when you say, “yes this is great,” you really mean it.
Lying is inevitably disadvantageous and absolute honesty is long-term good for you and everyone around you
Cultural norms of dishonesty can hold an entire population back, interpersonally, psychologically and informationally, from whole swaths of an arena down to individuals themselves.
And white lies are lies. Anti-helpful to you or anyone else.
This was a short, little book.
And it included Sam’s iconic style of mind-warping hypotheticals and a polished vernacular, that shines even in pitch black.
Honesty is a principle that obviously would be a positive if everyone adopted it at once, but having lying be so universal, makes total honesty harder to enact. And there are situations where, due to our own incompetence, honesty would seem to be only be to our detriment. “Yes officer, I do have drugs in my bag,” might be one example of foresight being much more useful to us than honesty.
But who knows, being honest there might end you up with a lighter sentence than if the officer searched for and found the drugs himself.
It’s complicated, but it seems to be that if you want to strive for a less embarrassment-laden, easier, better relationship filled and a more confident lifestyle, then honesty with a little tact and common sense can be your sustenance in this starving world.
This, for me, was a hard one to write. There are lots of complicated, abstract, layered concepts to a life of total honesty, the topic of this book, that were hard to translate into my own words. So… I would like to say that this post was delayed because of some good excuse, like my dog ate the script, but it was a week late due to a lot of procrastination because I was a little nervous about how hard of a script it would be to write. So, sorry about that, I really do hate missing weeks, so I hope it ended up being good enough to be worth it.
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