When I was ten, I broke a glass coffee table in the small apartment where my mother and I lived. Horrified, I covered the crack with a book, foolishly hoping it would never be moved and my carelessness would never be revealed. Unfortunately, my mother discovered the damage as soon as she got home. When she asked what had happened, I pretended to be as surprised as she was. I wasn’t convincing and when I saw the disappointment in my mother’s eyes, I confessed my crime, accepted my punishment and felt I’d learned a valuable lesson. I don’t mean I decided never to lie again. I mean I decided to get better at it.
Scientists have discovered we lie most often when we have something to dread rather than because we have something to gain. Our dread makes fear of punishment if we are caught insignificant. A better deterrent is self-image. (“Why We Cheat” by Ferric C. Fang and Arturo Casadevall, Scientific American Mind, May/June 2013 pgs. 33-35.) Creative people lie better than others because they have the ability to invent excuses that will appease their consciences.
Lying is not the exclusive province of humans, however. Cheating is a device nature has implanted in numerous species from primates down to bacteria and yeast. The latter employs trickery to steal food from others of its kind. (Ibid pg. 36)
I’m not sure yeast can ever be reformed, their self-images being pretty low, I suspect. But as for humans, Shakespeare was right again, “Conscience makes cowards of us all.” (Hamlet, III, I, 83).
(Courtesy of www.impactlab.net)