Dishonesty is a cancer that slowly kills every relationship where it grows unchecked. It kills relationships because there is a person who has been deceived and another who knows he has wronged his victim and believes he's gotten away with it. The successful liar will lie again and again, and every lie will only cause his contempt for the victim to grow larger. These undiscovered lies remain forever. They're like bricks paved and cemented across the path of any kind of mutual understanding. How can two people ever communicate when they stand on opposite sides of a solid wall built of lies?
Terry Goodkind is a fantasy-fiction novelist and one of my favorite authors. I've been a fan of his fantasy series The Sword of Truth for a long time and have re-read all the books in that series several times. Each book has a sort of moral-of-the-story kind of rule found at the end. These rules are called by Goodkind, "Wizard's Rules" In the first book of the series, Wizard's First Rule, the rule is this: People are stupid. If you tell someone something that they want to be true they will believe it. In addition, if you tell someone something that they fear is true they will believe that as well.
Recognizing lies when they're told is a critical skill and the problem with this is the indisputable fact that some liars are highly skilled at deceit, more skilled than we are at detecting it. There are all kinds of liars but in my opinion, the three that are the most destructive are the vindictive liar, the compulsive liar, and the well-intentioned liar. The first hates you, the second thinks you're an idiot, and the third thinks you can't handle the truth.
The Vindictive LiarThe most dangerous kind of liar to you personally is the vindictive liar. Two things above all create an enemy, betrayal and envy. It's hard to make friends, harder to make good friends, but easy-as-pie to make bitter enemies out of our very best friends. All it takes is betrayal. If you betray a close friend you will live to regret it. The other way to make an enemy is to have something that they want. Of all our emotions, envy has got to be the most useless and the most destructive of them all. Envy is Satan's emotion. It's why Lucifer was cast down. It's also how Lucifer tricked Eve in the Garden of Eden. (You'll notice it's also the foundation of the Democratic party's political platform.)
Genesis 3Satan temped Eve with this: "You will be like God." God has something you want—knowledge of good and evil—and if you had this knowledge you would be like God. At its heart this is unmistakably nothing but envy. Satan too wanted to be like God. He's here in this Garden tempting eve with the same envy that he himself succumbed to.
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The Compulsive LiarThe most irritating kind of liar is the compulsive liar. There are some liars that are so intransigently dishonest that no effort, no proof, no videotape, no signed document, no receipt, nothing, short of divine intervention perhaps, would ever make them admit they had told a lie, while they lie with every breath. As my brother so succinctly puts it: It's not a lie until you change your story, and even then it's not a lie unless you admit you changed your story.
The good news is that if you know it's a lie, then an admission by this kind of liar is unnecessary. You must first discover the lie; then in response, you must change your thinking. At some point in the investigation of a lie you will begin to realize that one of two things is true. Either the person you're dealing with is delusional and needs psychiatric help, or they consider you completely irrelevant. Either they're insane or they think you are a complete moron. The truth is they're hopelessly caught up in the Wizard's First Rule. They think people are stupid. They think you're stupid, I'm stupid, everybody—except themselves of course—is stupid.
If you know a compulsive liar you know what I'm talking about. This person has already lied so many times for absolutely no reason at all except sheer habit that he's the literal embodiment of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. So you examine the scene of the latest crime. You examine the evidence and listen to the testimony of this highly discredited witness. Is this the boy who cried wolf caught at last in his own trap, or is it once again a liar crying wolf again, like he has before and like he always will? Who cares? If you're wrong this one time and he really is innocent, so what? You must change your thinking. You don't have to get a confession. Bang that gavel down and pronounce sentence. Next case.
The Well-intentioned LiarThe most destructive of all liars—to civilization itself—is the well-intentioned liar. He believes he's wiser than you are. He believes that he knows what's best for you, for me, for the whole world. He knows that the ends justify the means, because the end he envisions is just so incredibly magnificent that any means—no matter how horrific—would justify it. He lies and knows he lies but it's okay, because we're not ready to hear the truth. We can't handle the truth.
He's Hitler. He's Stalin He's Pol Pot. He's any of a number of persuasive ideologues who know how to destructively and seductively use truths, half-truths, and lies to break apart every tie that binds us together as Christians, as husband and wife, as family, as community, as workers, as moral and upright concerned citizens. The well-intentioned liar will attempt to convince us that all these things—the glue that holds our civilization together—must be sacrificed, must be thrown on the funeral pyre and burned up before we will have the magnificent utopia, heaven on earth, world peace, or whatever catchy soundbite or slogan it is that finally makes its way through committee.