This book came onto my radar from one of the books I've read in the last month or so, referenced in some way, I don't recall how. It was available at the library, so I borrowed it, and read it.
This book is a short, intense, and powerful read. Half of the book is the essay, the second half is an interview with Harris and his influencer professor, Ron Howard and a question-answer format exploration and reader challenges about not lying.
Again, a short, intense, and powerful read. It is amazing, it could change your life if you listen. Maybe not as much as Harris' life was changed by his professor, but maybe as much.
I finished reading it, set it down, and felt a huge release. Did I really need someone far away to tell me to tell the truth, even down to stop telling the small white lies? I want to shrug and say, "I don't know, maybe," but the answer is yes, very clearly yes. Am I embarrassed by that? Yep, sure am! Am I finally listening to myself, too? Yep, sure am!
The book is a quick read, an essay book that I wouldn't have counted as a "book" last year in my book count. This year, if it's a book, it's a book, even if it's not what I historically have called "a real book." I bought myself a hardback copy of the book when I found the opportunity at a local bookstore, the book is that good and worth having. It is amazing, let me buy you a copy.
To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication.
People lie so that others will form beliefs that are not true. The more consequential the beliefs—that is, the more a person’s well-being demands a correct understanding of the world or of other people’s opinions—the more consequential the lie.
To speak truthfully is to accurately represent one’s beliefs. But candor offers no assurance that one’s beliefs about the world are true.
[T]ruthfulness require that one speak the whole truth, because communicating every fact on a given topic is almost never useful or even possible.
Honesty is a gift we can give to others. It is also a source of power and an engine of simplicity.
You can be honest and kind, because your purpose in telling the truth is not to offend people. You simply want them to have the information you have and would want to have if you were in their shoes.
Holding one’s tongue, or steering a conversation toward topics of relative safety, is not the same as lying (nor does it require that one deny the truth in the future).
Honesty can force any dysfunction in your life to the surface.
Lying is the lifeblood of addiction. If we have no recourse to lies, our lives can unravel only so far without others’ noticing.
Telling the truth can also reveal ways in which we want to grow but haven’t.
Doing something requires energy, and most morally salient actions are associated with conscious intent. Failing to do something can arise purely by circumstance and requires energy to rectify.
And although we imagine that we tell certain lies out of compassion for others, it is rarely difficult to spot the damage we do in the process.
A white lie is simply a denial of these realities. It is a refusal to offer honest guidance in a storm. Even on so touchy a subject, lying seems a clear failure of friendship.
In many circumstances in life, false encouragement can be very costly to another person.
False encouragement is a kind of theft: It steals time, energy, and motivation that a person could put toward some other purpose.
This is not to say that we are always correct in our judgments of other people. And honesty demands that we communicate any uncertainty we may feel about the relevance of our own opinions.
If the truth itself is painful to tell, often background truths are not—and these can be communicated as well, deepening the friendship.
[W]hen asked for an honest opinion, we do our friends no favors by pretending not to notice flaws in their work, especially when those who are not their friends are bound to notice the same flaws. Sparing others disappointment and embarrassment is a great kindness.
A commitment to honesty does not necessarily require that we disclose facts about ourselves that we would prefer to keep private.
The truth could well be “I’d rather not say.”
To agree to keep a secret is to assume a burden. At a minimum, one must remember what one is not supposed to talk about.
In those circumstances where we deem it obviously necessary to lie, we have generally determined that the person to be deceived is both dangerous and unreachable by any recourse to the truth. In other words, we have judged the prospects of establishing a genuine relationship with him to be nonexistent.
This is among the many corrosive effects of unjust laws: They tempt peaceful and (otherwise) honest people to lie so as to avoid being punished for behavior that is ethically blameless.
When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of. The world itself becomes your memory, and if questions arise, you can always point others back to it.
Integrity consists of many things, but it generally requires us to avoid behavior that readily leads to shame or remorse.
To lie is to erect a boundary between the truth we are living and the perception others have of us. The temptation to do this is often born of an understanding that others will disapprove of our behavior. Often,
Big lies have led many people to reflexively distrust those in positions of authority.
We seem to be predisposed to remember statements as true even after they have been disconfirmed.
Familiarity breeds credence.
Justified government deception is a kind of ethical mirage: Just when you think you’re reaching it, the facts usually suggest otherwise.
The ethics of war and espionage are the ethics of emergency—and are, therefore, necessarily limited in scope.
Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship.
It seems that there are situations in which one must admit at the outset that one is not in the presence of an ethical intelligence that can be reasoned with.
If someone is trying to kill me, I’m going to use the minimum effective force necessary to stop him.
This one, I'm not so sure, and is a place of cognitive dissonance and moral dilemma for me. If someone is trying to kill me, and I do not use all effective force to stop him, he has the opportunity to try to kill me again. Surviving isn't a guaranteed better place to be. There's a scene in The Fall that sticks with me. In it, the murderer is raping a woman and her brother attempt to save her, but without an intention to kill the murderer, only to disable. As a result, the murderer recovers and kills them both. The circumstance is fictional. And yet, human nature.
But let’s face it, there are people who are up to no good in all kinds of ways. I’m not going to abet them in violating other people’s right to be left alone, and I’ll do whatever is necessary to avoid that.
That’s life. It doesn’t all have a Hollywood ending. There are lots of pluses and minuses. Ultimately, we all die, and the only question is, what have you done between the time you’re born and the time you die?
But we have to put a frame around the relevant facts of the present, and if a person hasn’t been perfectly ethical up until yesterday, he has to figure out how to live with the legacy of his misbehavior.
He could say, “We’ve never talked about this. Is this something you really want to talk about today?” This may be the time, whatever their beliefs about what happens after death. Or he could say, “Look, we’ve got a very short time together, and whatever we’ve done in the past, if it doesn’t bring us joy now, let’s leave it behind.”
Howard: I look at it another way: No matter how much time I’ve got left, I want to live a life that I have no regrets about.
Do you view your life in terms of relationships or transactions? If you’re bidding on eBay, truth isn’t an issue. That is a completely transactional situation. If I’m dealing with my mechanic on an ongoing basis, it’s not a transaction. It’s a relationship, and he will make judgments about me and about my reliability as a person. And I will make judgments about him, and these judgments will have long-term effects for both of us. This alters the prisoner’s dilemma: If you have a relationship with a person, you’re going to have different beliefs about the prospect of his selling you out than you would if he were just some guy the experimenters grabbed and put in the situation with you.
When your model of yourself in the world is at odds with how you actually are in the world, you are going to keep bumping into things.
That’s why I want a very strong system to deter maxim-breakers based on restitution. In other words, some of these things you do are imposing costs on everyone else. I’ve never been burglarized, but I’m paying the price for people who commit burglary, through insurance and other costs. If you engage in that sort of behavior, you ought to pay the overhead for it.
Insofar as it is possible, our justice system should oblige criminals to repay their debts to society rather than pointlessly suffer on account of them.
Children have fantasy lives so rich and combustible that rigging them with lies is like putting a propeller on a rocket.
[I]s the last child in class who still believes in Santa really grateful to have his first lesson in epistemology meted out by his fellow six-year-olds?
There is a tension between avoiding danger and resisting evil—and how we resolve it will depend on many factors.
A prison is perhaps the easiest place to see the power of bad incentives.
As someone who has sat for many print interviews, I can attest to the insidious way that one’s vanity and trust may work to one’s disadvantage.
Nevertheless, one must begin being truthful from wherever one happens to be in life.
given a sufficiently hostile environment, lying will be the least of one’s problems. If a person is likely to be killed for his beliefs, misrepresenting them would be an ethical means of self-defense.