By Robert J. Burrowes
20 June, 2013
The purpose of fear is to suppress awareness of the truth.
People always lie for the same reason: fear. But the precise fear that
makes a person lie in one circumstance might be different from the fear
that makes them lie in another.
When a child is young, it will naturally tell the truth. Most usually, it
starts to learn to lie (consciously or unconsciously) when it discovers
that it is not believed when it tells the truth or it is blamed and
punished for telling the truth (particularly if the truth is unpalatable
to a parent or other adult). In these circumstances, lying might occur in
an attempt to be believed or in an attempt to avoid blame and punishment
and the lie might take the form of the child fearfully telling the parent
what the child knows the parent wants to hear. Why does this happen?
Because a child is genetically programmed to behave functionally
(evolution had to get this right or individuals and species would not
survive infancy), it would always tell the truth. But if it is not
believed then the child must ‘learn’ to devise strategies, including
lying, to be believed. This might start as a fearfully conscious response
but it will probably become increasingly unconscious and automated as it
learns what is ‘expected’.
If the child is blamed and/or punished for telling an unpalatable truth
then, again, it must ‘learn’ to devise strategies, including lying, to
avoid blame and punishment. Given that many social institutions routinely
require behaviours that evolution did not intend and which are not
functional (for example, sitting in a school classroom all day), the child
will be progressively dysfunctionalized in a variety of ways, including
ones that scare it out of telling the truth about how it feels and what it
needs (as it would otherwise do naturally).
By the time the typical child has reached adolescence, it will live in a
world of considerable delusion about itself, other people and the world in
general. In these circumstances, the emerging adult will now lie
unconsciously, primarily in order to maintain its delusions about itself
and the complementary delusions it has about others and the world. This is
why most politicians lie. But they are not alone.
For example, a mother will want to maintain a sense of herself as ‘a good
mother’ (however dysfunctionalized and/or violent she is) and if one or
more of her children decide to challenge her dysfunctional/violent
behaviours or even to discontinue their relationship with her, then,
rather than acknowledge her dysfunctional/violent behaviours and accept
responsibility for dealing with these (which would require her to have the
courage to feel the suppressed fear, pain, anger, sadness and other
feelings that drive her dysfunctionalities and violence), she is most
likely to reinforce her own delusions about herself by lying about herself
and her child, including about the reasons her child no longer wants to
have a relationship with her.
But much of her lying will be unconscious because, to lie consciously
would mean that she could acknowledge (at least to herself) her
dysfunctional/violent behaviours and, perhaps, accept responsibility for
dealing with these. However, of course, this almost invariably does not
happen precisely because of her fear (based on her own childhood
experience) of being blamed and punished for making, and acknowledging,
‘mistakes’. It is far less frightening to fearfully lie (and act
accordingly) than to acknowledge her delusion about herself and to accept
responsibility for her dysfunctional and violent behaviours.
So why do most people believe lies?
Each child is born with a predisposition to believe the adults in its
life. This is evolutionarily functional because childhood survival depends
on adult care. But the child is also born with the potential to develop a
‘truth register’: the mental function, related to anger, that enables it
to detect lies. Unfortunately, the truth register, like all potential
capacities, is a subtle and easily damaged mental function and if a child
is lied to chronically by a parent or other significant adult during its
childhood, the truth register will either not develop or it will be
weakened to such an extent that it will no longer readily detect lies.
A person who has been lied to chronically will develop a gullibility that
is obvious to those with a developed truth register but even the
gullibility of others will be obscure to those with an undeveloped or
weakened truth register of their own.
What can we do about lying? Just four things will fix this chronic
problem: always tell the truth fearlessly yourself, always believe
children, always take affirmative action in response to the child’s truth,
and never punish anyone (including whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and
Edward Snowden) for telling the truth. See ‘Why Violence?’
You can run from the truth
You can hide from the truth
You can deny the truth
But you cannot destroy the truth
Robert has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending
human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to
understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist
since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’
http://tinyurl.com/whyviolence His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
and his website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com