In Sam Harris' book Lying, there are two great examples of how little lies can destroy trust between people.
A friend of mine, Sita, was once visiting the home of another friend and wanted to take her a small gift. Unfortunately, she was traveling with her young son and hadn’t found time to go shopping. As they were getting ready to leave their hotel, however, Sita noticed that the bath products supplied in their room were unusually nice. So she put some soaps,
shampoos, and body lotions into a bag, tied it with a ribbon she got at the front desk, and set off. When Sita presented this gift, her friend was delighted.
“Where did you get them?” she asked.
Surprised by the question, and by a lurching sense of impropriety, Sita sought to regain her footing with a lie:
“Oh, we just bought them in the hotel gift shop.”
The next words came from her innocent son: “No, Mommy, you got them in the bathroom!”
Imagine the faces of these two women, briefly frozen in embarrassment and then yielding to smiles of apology and forgiveness. This may seem the most trivial of lies - and it was - but it surely did nothing to increase the level of trust between these two friends. Funny or not, the story reveals something distasteful about Sita: She will lie when it suits her needs.
Jessica recently overheard her friend Lucy telling a white lie: Lucy had a social obligation she wanted to get free of, and Jessica heard her leave a voicemail message for another friend, explaining why their meeting would have to be rescheduled. Lucy’s excuse was entirely fictitious - something involving her child’s getting sick-but she lied so effortlessly and persuasively that Jessica was left wondering if she had ever been duped by Lucy in the past. Now, whenever Lucy cancels a plan, Jessica suspects she might not be telling the truth.
These tiny erosions of trust are especially insidious because they are almost never remedied. Lucy has no reason to think that Jessica has a grievance with her - because she doesn’t. She simply does not trust her as much as she used to, having heard her lie without compunction to another friend. Of course, if the problem (or the relationship) were deeper, perhaps Jessica would say something - but, as it happens, she feels there is no point in admonishing Lucy about her ethics. The net result is that a single voicemail message, left for a third party, has subtly undermined a friendship.
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