Why We Believe Liars, Part Deux
(I say it that way because I am part French, despite the fact I am 100% Cuban)
In my last blog I explained that for every consummate psychopathic, pathological liar, scammer, lowlife, etc., there is someone who believes him. Or her. But usually it is him. Men are 20 times more likely to be pathological liars than women. Not great odds, guys.
The previous blog also focused on the first reason we believe liars: we put ourselves in their place, and we have empathy for them.
This blog is about another main reason for our belief: we want to think that the people we like are good. If we like someone, we want to believe what that person says. We need them to be reliable, because if they aren’t, what does that say about us?
I knew it! Wait, what do you mean it’s a lie?
Not to get political, but I can best illustrate this concept because of the very partisan nature of the electorate (read: us against them):
In 2015, Hillary Clinton made a stunning comment on a secretly taped conversation that received very little notice:
“The loss of a few American lives in Benghazi is trivial. I have much more important things to focus on.”
The quote was insensitive, brutal, and of course, false. But whether you initially believed or dismissed it probably aligns with whether you like Clinton or not. In politics, we view lies through the prism of whom we like, or rather, in whom we have invested ourselves.
The same applies to personal relationships. Criticize someone’s mate by pointing out lies or shortcomings, and you are likely to get a visceral reaction. The reason is clear: if you criticize them, and I am with them, you are criticizing me. Or rather, I am criticizing myself for believing someone I know has issues, and you pointing it out just hits home. Stop it.
Why would I care about Apple’s soaring stock?
We don’t just invest ourselves in other people, but in things we love as well.
I have an iPhone, and I have used Macs for years. I prefer Mac OS to Windows, and I am put off by the way Android OS is designed to sell my personal information. But there are a lot of things on iPhones and Macs that are just as bad. Apple assumes that they can charge very large premiums for laptops and phones, and they make consumer-unfriendly choices, such as not allowing you to upgrade RAM, or removing the headset plug. But when you bring those obvious failings up to some users, they act as if you just shot their dog (as a vegan, I am not for the shooting of dogs, by the way).
Investing too much in other people, or brands, or situations outside your control is a human failing that liars use to trap us: you believe in me and as a liar, I know that. Liars, sociopaths and bad salespeople use this fundamental flaw to get you to look beyond the obvious evidence in front of you.
So, what to do?
The trick to not being sucked in by liars is basically the same advice as I offered in my previous blog. Consider the source and separate yourself from the suspected lie. If Bob tells you he was not out with your sister (picture of them together on his Instagram page notwithstanding), and you don’t want to believe it, imagine if someone else told you the same thing. If someone you dislike — or at least like less — told you the exact same thing, would you believe it given the proof?
Does that always work? If you had a recording of a white supremacist saying he hated people of color, you would tend to find that more in character than if you heard the same words being attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, right? Also, given inconclusive facts, whom would you believe more – your spouse or a stranger? All valid points. But in the end, you have to give definitive proof a lot of weight. And let’s be honest: if you didn’t have your doubts already, you wouldn’t be doing this exercise.
To stop the power of sociopaths over you, you need to say to yourself that having believed them, married them, hired them or bought something from them in the past, does not invest you in them. We can all be duped. We just want to not be duped in the future.
You may have spent a lot to train an employee, or even married a person and started a family, but while you can’t change the past, know that the future is still an opportunity. Psychopathic liars don’t get better with time; as they get older, they tend to moderate their more destructive behavior, but the longer their history with a person, the worse their behavior gets. Every day you believe their lives the more precarious your position becomes.
Cut your losses, or at least look at them with a fresh, more objective eye. Otherwise, a year from now you may wish you had walked away sooner. If you decide a person is lying, what you decide to do with that information is up to you, but at least you have stopped lying to yourself.
You have the power
You have the tools you need to know when someone is lying to you. Using those tools, you can significantly improve your quality of life and safeguard your money, your well being and your future.
Next time, we will discuss the third reason we believe liars: Jack Nicholson was right, sometimes we can’t handle the truth.