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Lying for the greater good

(no, this is not a spy story)

Maybe I'm not "Honest Abe," but I'm close to it

I love the truth. I love to tell the truth. Much more than most, I'm truthful, straightforward, and vulnerably open.

Sometimes lying is stupid (for everyone concerned)

Nevertheless, sometimes I lie. And when I do, I do a good job of it and I feel great about myself for doing so.

I lie with forethought, never carelessly. In fact, my rule of thumb is that, unless I have a very good reason to lie, I tell the truth.

Carefully vetting a possible lie

Moreover, before I seriously consider lying, I will ask myself, "Is there a way to tell the truth so the projected costs and risks that I am concerned about can be minimized or eliminated?"

To continue to vet a possible lie, I'll ask myself, "What risks, if any, are there that this person I'm thinking of lying to would either know that I am lying or could discover I lied? Are the projected costs that would be incurred for me and for them, should they discover I am lying and factoring in the risk of that, are the risk of these costs less than the benefits I project in lying, in comparison to not lying?" In asking myself this question, I try to err on the side of over-estimating the risk of them finding out.

Calculating long-term, not just short-term

Calculating for them, not just for me

In taking into account the cost-risk/benefit-possibility ratio, I'll be looking long-term, not only short-term, to ensure Now-Next Integrity. I'll be considering their cost/benefit ratio, not just my own, to ensure Oneself-Others Integrity.

Taking 100% responsibility

Consequently, if I do decide to lie, it will be with integrity, fully accepting whatever risks and costs may be included. If courage is needed, I'll honor myself for choosing that courage. Even though it may turn out that I misjudged the cost-risk/benefit-possibility ratio and don't get the results I intended in a given situation, I'll still feel good about myself. It's all part of living life to the fullest.

Some of us suck at not lying

Some of us try to be absolute in our commitment never to lie and always to tell the truth, even though lies of omission are often still allowed. Their not-lying ethic is not likely based fundamentally on any valid idea of integrity. It's more probably driven by a culturally acquired identity of "being a good guy" or in reaction to someone else who hurt others by lying (shades of the movie "Liar Liar" with Jim Carrey). Consequently, these compulsive truth-tellers often hurt themselves and others unnecessarily. And when others complain about that pain, these truth-tellers usually defend themselves with, "I'm just speaking the truth."

Others of us suck at lying

On the other side are those of us who lie, but we suck at it. We lie without serious forethought, considering both Now-Next Integrity and Oneself-Others Integrity. We often underestimate the risk of the person being lied to find that out, especially if the issue being lied about persists over time. We don't plan and implement the lie well if needed. On top of that, we feel guilty about lying or about what we're lying about, like having an affair. All these contributing factors can collude to create the perfect lying fuckup. 

Stories of when I lied

"I feel so guilty for upsetting you. I was wrong. So sorry. Hope you can forgive me."

In the year 2000, I was renting a room in a large house in Tokyo, sharing the rest of the house with four other young Japanese, who each had their own private room. A dispute surfaced around my bringing my Chinese girlfriend, who was a Ph.D. student at Tokyo University, to my room once a week where we talked and made love. The dispute was triggered by the disgust they felt when they could overhear the noise my girlfriend was making when we made love. Being good Japanese, they let their resentment toward us build-up to the point that, by the time I learned about it, they were united as a group by insisting that my girlfriend should not visit me any longer in the house. Side note: although I cannot know this for sure because it was not spoken, a contributing factor to their insisting on her not visiting me may have been the general contempt that many Japanese still held toward Chinese at that time.

I was "right," and they were "wrong"

Even though my lease agreement clearly allowed me to have guests, the landlord sided with the tenants, saying, "majority rules." Even though my girlfriend "turned down" the making-love noise, after a few weeks of trying to unsuccessfully come to an understanding with my housemates and also worried that one of my housemates might even feel righteous and justified enough to enter my room when I was out and mess up my computer and telephone system (there was no effective way for me to lock it), which was essential in talking with my coaching clients in the USA every day, I knew I had to find another way to resolve the dispute.

Pay some money and rendezvous with my girlfriend once a week in a love hotel

I was lucky that my girlfriend was quite understanding about our circumstances, and she didn't even seem to be upset with my Japanese housemates. Together we came up wIth an idea that included some extra expenses that I had not anticipated. However, the projected benefits were that my housemates and the landlord would probably be as happy with me as they were before, and I wouldn't need to be concerned about the physical security of my room.

Tokyo had a lot of hotels, unabashedly dubbed "love hotels." You could rent a room for as little as two hours. We did it for a full day. The least expensive available then was about $100 per night. I was already set to move to Shanghai in about three months. The total hotel layout would be about $1200. And it would be fun and even more romantic! 

Lying to the landlord and my housemates

Even though we lived in the same house, we all tended to communicate mostly by email. I wrote everyone an email. Though every email said basically the same, I sent it individually so that I was apologizing to each one, not just a group apology. I didn't give them any details about the hotel plans and the reasoning behind my new decision. That didn't make sense. I just said, "After a lot of thinking, I have decided that I was so wrong. I don't know why I didn't see it before. I deeply regret the upset that I have caused you. I promise that I will not bring my girlfriend to this house again. If you can forgive me, I would be grateful. If you cannot, I understand."

Lying for the greater good

I was lying when I wrote this. I didn't think I was "so wrong," except in the sense that I was incorrect in thinking I could have come to an understanding with them without giving in to their demands. I didn't feel regret. Yes, I know my former actions and position stimulated them to feel upset. At the time, I was doing my best to resolve the issue. Nevertheless, I decided that these lies would probably serve both myself and them by more quickly dissolving their blame toward me. They lived solidly inside the House of Good and Bad and, given that, if I was going to resolve the issue this way, it needed to look like I was living inside that house too.

It worked!

Overnight the atmosphere in the house went from "we're not speaking to you" to be even more cordial than it seemed before. The cherry on top came about ten weeks later when I was packing up some boxes to pre-ship to a new friend in Shanghai who was going to hold them for me until I arrived there. Ichiro-san, one of my housemates who had been especially upset with me previously, offered to help me pack. He was a better packer than I was. We were enjoying our chatting together until it was finished a few hours later.

"Daddy, I'm so confused! I have no idea what to do!"

In the summer of 1984 my mother finally decided, after 41 years of an unhappy marriage, to leave my father, a man she hadn't loved and hadn't respected for most of that time. I lived in Arizona with my wife Louise at the time. I flew to Tennessee to assist my mother in the separation process. My father, who was somehow clueless to the state of his relationship with his wife, nevertheless, by the second day I was there, began to suspect that his wife was leaving him.

My father believed I was taking his wife from him

He is sitting in the recliner in the living room. I was sitting on the floor. My mother was off to my right working in the open kitchen. My father, his voice rising in anger, said to me, "How dare you come into my home and take my wife away from me!" My father was not a man who generally expressed open anger. I wasn't sure what it might come to if his anger began to escalate. I decided it was better if I could calm him down. 

The facts would make no difference to him

I knew that the facts were not likely to be persuasive. My mother had wanted to leave my father for a long time. She just finally got to the breaking point and made the decision herself. 

Maybe he would protect his "helpless" son

I was 40 at that time. I wasn't a life coach yet, but I'd studied psychology and even gotten certified as an NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) practitioner. In addition, I was a pretty good actor. Sitting there on the living room floor, I began to cry in a helpless manner, "Daddy, I'm so confused! I have no idea what to do!" My father immediately replied in a gentle, reassuring voice, "It'll be okay, son. It'll be okay."

I was so effective in my performance that my mother, thinking that my father had done something to upset me, began to get angry with my father. I side-winked at her to let her know I was okay.

It worked

I had suggested that my mother move to Arizona for the time being. My father was refusing to move out of the house. So, in order to separate, which was the most immediately important thing to do, she would stay with my wife and me for a week or two before she found a place to stay in Arizona. My sister and brother were also living in the Phoenix Valley. It made a lot of sense.

Tense moments, but no more anger

There were some tense moments over the next two days where my mother was making many arrangements, like asking her brother and her sister-in-law to take care of her mother while she was away, which my mother had been doing. My mother was also packing up and deciding what she could take with her on the plane, including her beloved cat! But my father did not get angry again. 

A happier ending, and not any worse for my father

One of my mother's friends picked us up at my parent's home and with all my mother's "luggage," drove her, me, and the cat to the Nashville Airport, 80 miles away.

My father had no friends by himself. All his "friends" were through my mother. Also, my father was bipolar so that made it more problematic for him to live on his own. Eight months later my mother learned through her friends in her Tennessee neighborhood that my father had abandoned their home. She could return to her home in Tennessee. Every time I would talk with my mother on the phone, she would exclaim, "Why didn't you tell me how good my life would be without him!?"

My father went on to marry two more women, the first who left him after six months and the second who was going to divorce him, but he died first.

"I'm on holiday in Kunming."

One of the repeating adventures I enjoy here in Kunming is going to a new area of the city and talking with people on the street. With a friend and interpreter by my side, I will approach a stranger and say to them, through my interpreter, "Hi, my name is Dwight. I'm on holiday in Kunming. May I talk with you for a few minutes?"

Is it a lie or not?

"I'm on holiday in Kunming." No, it's not literally a lie. It is a holiday for me; I'm just doing it in my own city. However, I know that the stranger I'm talking with will assume that either I have recently come from another city in China or even from abroad. In this respect, since I know how my listener is likely to interpret it, I am lying.

The benefits of lying in this circumstance

Why do I do this? Why not just tell them the truth upfront so that what they hear is likely to be more congruent with the truth, as in saying, "I live in Kunming, and I decided to explore a different part of the city for a day"?

If I did this, instead of "lying" to them by saying, "I'm on holiday in Kunming," they will not be so eager to engage with me as they are when they see me as a "special tourist from abroad" just on holiday in their city. I've tested this and I know. When I "lie" to them this way, our conversation, created with the help of my interpreter, becomes more exciting and interesting for both sides.

Before saying goodbye to them, I will adjust what I said at the beginning. "I am on holiday in Kunming, as I said before. But I also live in Kunming. Here's my card so that we can stay in touch if you like." They seem to be quite fine and happy about this un-lying disclosure.

Lie low, lie little...but when it makes sense, lie well with full integrity

I give the above examples of lying to indicate, not only how few circumstances exist, relatively speaking, where lying makes sense, but also to indicate the importance of lying well with integrity when you do decide that there's an opportunity to "lie for the greater good."

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