book: Lying
author: Sam Harris

general overview

in Sam Harris’ Lying, the main premise is something we all know and generally accept, yet often ignore. Harris believes even the tiniest, whitest lie is going to do harm, and he lays out the reasoning behind his thesis quite clearly and plainly. he maintains that objectively providing the truth to people – even when it’s uncomfortable – is the only way to build stronger connections with others and even within yourself.

why to avoid truth-avoiding

lying involves the implicit, deliberate avoidance of truth. Harris believes that this truthful omission is more harmful than the added fabrication of a lie. the omission of truth is at the core of what breaks relationships down. 

also see: Kant’s Moral Philosophy. it’s the springboard from which Harris launches his whole argument about lying.               

only through honest, open communication can any connection – from a workplace partnership to a personal relationship – function properly. worse yet, as truth-avoiding becomes more and more common in society, it begins to happen in larger and more damaging ways. rather than always lying, Harris talks about truth-avoiding as a manner in which the truth is avoided by changing the focus of conversation to things that don’t place the individual in a position to lie. this is just as damaging, as it forces dishonesty into the situation.

at the core of this issue is the withholding of someone’s feelings. when feelings and emotion are treated dishonestly, there will be a growing urge to hide more and more and continue to lie. likewise, even small things become hard to admit, and that can lead to some major issues in every kind of relationship.

liberating lies from daily life

the core of liberating lies from daily life, in Harris’ view, is making each relationship be about caring for another individual. whether at work, home, or in social settings, caring for one another harnesses the power of compassion and makes it possible to provide others with the attention they are needed to feel fulfilled. 

even the smallest white lie, which may seem to be harmless on the surface, has the effect of breaking that bond. brutal honesty is much more beneficial in keeping up a relationship over time. even things like physical appearance are better dealt with honesty than care for sounding harsh, because in the end, personal (and relationship) growth is only possible in the face of total honesty.

a main focus of this idea for Harris is the concept of arrogance. liars assume that they know what truths others can handle. he counters that it’s not up to us, as friends, coworkers, lovers, or family members, to assume what others should be able to hear and what they should not. taking this away from others violates trust and honesty.

we have to trust that others can grapple with the truth, no matter how real, because in the end it will be more freeing than living in the lie. things may seem uncomfortable for everyone involved when more sensitive subjects are the focus of conversation, but that sense of security is false when it is rooted in lies. 

living in a fantasy is only fun for those who watch it from the outside, because the same insecurities and concerns we all feel are central to the human experience, no matter how secure we like to imagine ourselves being. for this reason, everyone benefits from more truth.

being true about honesty

without lies in our lives, the responsibility of managing falsehoods and other disguises relieves us of the fear of them being realized. that means that not only is a lie bad for others, but the lie is also a form of self-deceit, although you know what the lie really is. avoid lying in any form, according to Harris, to avoid self-deceit and the feeling of dishonesty that plagues our consciousness. 

this happens naturally, Harris notes. there is no societal code that says we must feel bad about being dishonest. everyone always says “honesty is the best policy,” and to Harris, he views it as a natural policy to follow. the psychological toll that keeping up lies takes on an individual far outweigh a few minor awkward moments. continuing to pursue any sort of relationship in this bad faith is going to plague it from start to finish.

when we lie to others, we also bring ourselves to become comfortable with lying to ourselves. Maybe the mirror shows a body we are not happy with, but if we tell our friends, who look like us, that they are perfect, we too can tell ourselves we are perfect. 

no matter the example, this form of self-deceit leads to us having false opinions about ourselves. this obviously affects our mental health and self-esteem. the lie we tell today could turn into the habit we can’t break tomorrow. it’s best, in Harris’ mind, to avoid these situations altogether and make sure honesty is central to all our communicative behaviors.

final takeaways

honesty and lying are two conflicting elements that define all our relationships with others. as natural as honesty often feels, we quickly resort to lying the moment we are faced with dissonance or the potential for awkward situations. 

at the same time, we want to protect the feelings of those we care about, and even the emotions of those we don’t know too well. in doing so, we build on a foundation of dishonesty that affects the cornerstones of what a healthy relationship looks like. 

only by avoiding dishonesty and lying, even at the smallest levels, are we able to further expand our capacity for compassion and togetherness that actually fulfill us in every aspect of social life. in doing so, we cultivate richer, fuller understandings of each other, and even of ourselves.