holding hands
Photo courtesy of Ryan Franco Photography
Without being fully aware that we’re doing it, we spend a lot of energy determining whom to trust. Good judgment, much of it instinctive, enables our survival.

One of the markers of trustworthiness is authenticity. We naturally feel more comfortable with people who seem genuine, including people with highly developed skills at deception. Of course, there’s nothing worse than discovering deception, because it calls our judgment—our survival instincts—into question.

When someone has lied, our first reaction to the discovery is likely to be anger. After the initial shock, the lingering question is “Why?”

Many years ago, I read an interesting, very brief report of the results of a study designed to find whether variables, including an individual’s birth order, were useful in predicting whether the person would lie when subjected to a polygraph examination. Published in 1983, the article written by Juddee A. Budnick, Kevin G. Love, and Leo Wisniewski, Jr., was titled “Predictors of Liar/Nonliar Status: Birth Order, Age, Reason for Polygraph Investigation, and Previous Arrest.”

It’s inappropriate to focus on just one of the article’s underlying assertions, but one particular idea has stayed with me. The authors refer to the contention among social psychologists that “lying comes about in order to preserve the roles people play and to help in the management of the impression of themselves that they give.”

Essentially, if telling the truth about wrongdoing will conflict too much with a person’s self-image, then the person is more likely to lie about failing to measure up.

According to the article’s authors, “People strive to give the impression that they are acting consistently with the positions they occupy when interacting with others.”

Put another way by Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Which is why it’s so important for people in positions of authority to purposely, constantly, voluntarily push themselves to learn from others. Always being asked and never doing the asking distorts reality—and it’s deceptively, dangerously comfortable.

What do you think? Is this the correct conclusion or too much of a stretch?

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