Harris argues that we can improve our own lives and the world by never lying. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History, recommends the book as follows: "In this brief but illuminating work, Sam Harris applies his characteristically calm and sensible logic to a subject that affects us all--the human capacity to lie. And by the book's end, Harris compels you to lead a better life because the benefits of telling the truth far outweigh the cost of lies--to yourself, to others, and to society."
Here are a few quotes from the book:
- Research suggests that all forms of lying -including white lies meant to spare the feelings of others - are associated with poorer-quality relationships.
- Honesty is a gift we can give to other. It is also a source of power and an engine of simplicity. Knowing that we will attempt to tell the truth, whatever the circumstances, leaves us with little to prepare for.
- A commitment to telling the truth requires that one pay attention to what the truth is in every moment.
- Ethical transgressions are generally divided into two categories: the bad things we do (acts of commission) and the good things we fail to do (acts of omission).
- There are many circumstances in life in which false encouragement can be very costly to another person.
- False encouragement is a kind of theft: it steals time, energy, and motivation a person could put toward some other person.
- When asked for our opinion, we do our friends no favors by pretending not to notice flaws in their work, especially when those who are not their friends are bound to notice these same flaws.
- A commitment to honesty does not necessarily require that we disclose facts about ourselves that we would prefer to keep private [...] The truth could well be, "I'd rather not say."
- Lies beget other lies. Unlike statements of fact, which require no further work on our part, lies must be continually protected from collisions with reality. When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of. The world itself becomes your memory.
- You can openly discuss your confusion, conflicts, and doubts.
I quite like the proposition of the book. I guess I used to view lying as something which may be unpleasant but sometimes unavoidable. Also, I thought that telling an occasional white lie was not so bad and perhaps sometimes even ethically better than telling the truths. Over the years, my thoughts about lying have shifted in the direction Sam Harris argues for. For example, I recommend never to give compliments which are not sincere. Also, when training managers, I argue for honesty in their conversations with employees. Not only does dishonesty often (always?) work badly, it is also often quite possible to be honest without hurting people or your relationship with them.
Reading the book a few incidents came to memory in which I had lied myself. In particular one case in which I had made a transgression of the omission type. I was a junior employee and a senior colleague shamelessly explained to me how he had misled a customer. He thought it was harmless and laughed as he said that this is 'just the way things work'. I remember being shocked and angry and possibly I protested a bit. But I did not go any further. I did not stop the lie or make it public. I guess I justified this by me being just a junior (what did I know?). But I now think I could and should have done more.
Question: to what extent do you think it is desirable and possible to always tell the truth? Is this something you would like to become better at?