Ryan Lochte Lied. So What Does That Mean to the Rest of Us?

The Olympics are over, but Ryan Lochte’s lie lives on. Still, if we look at it, he was just carrying on the ignoble tradition of making up a story to avoid being embarrassed for some inappropriate behaviour. Hey, if former presidents of the US can do it, Lochte is in lofty company.

It got me thinking about lying, and how, really, everyone lies. We lie to other people, to institutions and often, we lie to ourselves. We even lie by telling ourselves that we don’t lie.

Of course, lying is a big part of human nature. Little kids lie to try and stay out of trouble. Sociopaths lie to attack their rivals or gain an advantage. Men and women lie to seduce or cheat. We can’t escape it.

A few years ago, I had an interesting conversation while driving in a battered Mercedes Benz along the twisting roads of Oaxaca, Mexico. My charming hostess, let’s call her Clara, was enlightening her passengers about the three types of lies.

According to the Mexican saying, there were “mentiras piadosas,” “mentiras jocosas” and “mentiras dolorosas.” Translation: little white lies, jokey lies and painful lies.

I found it fascinating that a culture would have a name for each of these lies; it demonstrated, in my mind, an acceptance of the inevitability of lying. It was just a matter of which type of lie a person would be employing, at a given time.

We’ve all used little white lies. Haven’t you told your friend that she does look good in those pants when in fact, she really doesn’t? How many of us have lied to spare the feelings of the people we care about? I think that these lies are perfectly acceptable, as long as they don’t spill over into the things that really matter, and which could potentially cause the person harm.

The jokey lies are interesting. We’ve all had friends who’ve exaggerated their dating prowess, or the size of the fish they caught, and family members who’ve embroidered an old story until it became unrecognizable from the original. This is always done to impress the other person, and always with a wink and a nod. No harm, no foul.

Then there are lies that live on the border of acceptable and not. How many of us have called in sick when we were actually going to the baseball game? How many of us exaggerated on our resume? How many of us have canceled a plan with someone because we preferred to go out with someone else? If we start doing a lot of this, it will be easy to lose our moral compass.

Then there are the hurtful lies; the ones few of us will admit to using. How many of us have cheated on our taxes? On our spouse? How many of us have told the boss that the fatal mistake on the document — we had nothing to do with it. These lies, obviously, are a lot more problematic.

And then there are the really bad lies; the ones meant to deceive, obfuscate, manipulate or deflect. These lies are wielded as weapons, and those on the receiving end are the victims of our falsehoods. Corrupt CEO’s lie like this, as do crooked politicians. Sociopaths in all areas of society employ these types of hurtful lies.

So why do we lie? Many reasons. We lie to protect ourselves; to spare the other person’s feelings; to stay out of trouble. An abused spouse will lie to avoid a beating; a frightened child will lie to their teacher about their bruises to avoid further punishments from their parent; a high-schooler will lie to avoid being bullied.

When Ryan Lochte lied, it was to avoid the embarrassment of being caught having drunkenly vandalized a gas station in Rio. When Bill Cosby lied, it was to preserve his public persona. When Nixon lied, it was to avoid getting caught for doing something illegal; when Donald Trump lies, well, that’s a whole other can of worms.

Some people to get ahead in life, or to explout someone else. Sometimes, we lie and feel remorse. Sometimes, we lie and feel perfectly justified to do so. Hint: if we think it’s okay to lie to gain an advantage, we’re probably lacking in the ethics department.

Ryan Lochte’s lie shows us that often, lying just makes things worse. If we mess up, it’s better to just admit it and take the consequences like a grown-up. If we lie to avoid getting into trouble, we can make a lot more trouble for ourselves, in the long run.

And if we don’t get caught in our lie, that’s even worse. We can start to think that we can get away with more bad behaviour, or that lying like this is acceptable. That’s when we start sliding down the slippery slope of antisocial behaviour.

We’re all going to lie, now and again. Let’s try to confine our lies to telling our friend that yes, their new haircut does look absolutely amazing.

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