Lying and Lifestyle

Dinosaurs were living at the city dump. Velociraptors, to be precise.

When I was nine and my sister was seven, I convinced her that this was the case. It didn’t take much persuading, either. The hard work had been done by Jurassic Park, the blockbuster movie we had already seen several times that summer. The city dump, which was visible from the highway, had this tall fencing stretching around the perimeter. To me the fence resembled the barricades meant to pen in the movie’s dinosaurs. So one day, on a drive to visit our grandparents, I leaned over to my sister as the dump came into view. In a hushed, conspiratorial tone, I pointed out the window and informed her, “You know that’s where they keep the velociraptors…” She looked concerned. “Really?”

The cover story in this month’s National Geographic explores the human propensity for lying. It is fascinating both for what it reports and how it reports it. In an age obsessed with each and every individual’s capacity—nay, “right”—to embrace the lifestyle of his or her choosing, the article is unabashed in its portrayal of lying as something that we don’t choose. In an age of particulars, lying remains a universal. It is a constitutive part of who we are as rational beings, the article suggests. “To lie is human,” the author states, and while “honesty may be the best policy,” as the blurb beneath the title reads, nevertheless “scheming and dishonesty are part of what makes us human.” “That human beings should universally possess a talent for deceiving one another shouldn’t surprise us,” the reader is assured. Why not? Because it is “a deeply ingrained human trait,” a behavior that, according to researchers, “arose not long after the emergence of language.”

If the ubiquity of dishonesty is a truth that fails to console, the article goes on to reassure us of the important role which learning to lie plays in child development. Apparently it is actually good for kids to lie:

“The truth comes naturally,” says psychologist Bruno Verschuere, “but lying takes effort and a sharp, flexible mind.” Lying is a part of the developmental process, like walking and talking. Children learn to lie between ages two and five, and lie the most when they are testing their independence.

Walking, talking, lying: which one of these is not like the others? To speak what is true is a good act, but to utter what is false is… just as good, developmentally speaking? As children age, another psychologist’s experiments have revealed, those individuals who are more adept at lying actually demonstrate a greater capacity to understand others and exhibit more self-control. So by this logic, my velociraptor fabrication was just part of my social and intellectual development. (Regardless of the nightmares it might have caused my poor kid sister during the week, I let this lie fester.)

There is a difference between developing and ascending, however. All humans may develop as liars, because of our fallen human nature, but only conformity to the truth, through grace, can truly elevate the mind. The accomplished liar, whether he fabricates for pleasure, gain, or pride, is simultaneously learning to live on an island. All alone. The mainland, on the other hand, is made up of that communion fostered by honest and just exchange. This terrain slopes ever higher, toward God. Indeed, the ascent is marked by assent—assenting to God, who is First Truth. To live in the world described in this National Geographic article, then, and develop the virtuous habit of truthfulness—now there’s an alternative lifestyle for you.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana and is reprinted here with kind permission. 


Br. Jordan Zajac entered the Order of Preachers in 2013. After graduating from Providence College, he earned an M.A. from the University of Virginia and a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, both in English Literature.

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