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On the Rareness of Liars

I will never understand why some people, when faced with someone who has a different perception or understanding than they do, immediately leap to the defense of "So, what - you're calling me a liar?!"

No. Of course that's not what I'm saying! What seems clear to me is that there's a misunderstanding of some kind, and I want to communicate with you to figure out where that deviation occurred. It might be you misunderstanding something, or it might very well be me. But the thought that you might be deliberately lying never even crossed my mind!

Thankfully, this sort of thing doesn't happen very often - but on the very rare occasion that it does (either from a friend, or a customer), I always find myself stunned, and a bit boggled, that this is the first place their reasoning process has led. Is it just a matter of them being so blindly self-assured that they simply can't conceive of the idea they might have got something wrong? Or does it go deeper than that, and they've never really considered the fundamental difference between the concept of an objective reality, and that of the subjective one each of us uniquely perceives?

Because I have. Honestly, it's one of my main building blocks in the way I try to interact with the world. I'm pretty confident in a number of things, and often feel I have a pretty good idea (more or less) of what's going on. But I'm also intimately aware that every bit of data I get from the world around me comes through my five senses ... and hey, maybe those are flawed. More to the point, every conscious perception we have goes through our reasoning center, and that's far more likely to have erred. (Maybe we were certain X was happening, when it was really Y.) It gets dodgier still when you add in the ambiguous nature of human communication!

So when I encounter someone who has a radically different understanding or memory than I do ... I'm not going to assume they're crazy. I'm not going to assume they're lying to me. I'm going to keep talking to them to see if we can figure out where that deviation occurred. It may be that there's a simple answer - but other times, there's not. I've occasionally had a close friend tell me, "No, that's not what I said at all." Or they'll describe to me a revelation or new understanding that I professed ... and which I have no memory of whatsoever. Guess what? When those things occur, my assumption isn't that the other person's memory is at fault. Instead, much though it may boggle my brain, I'm going to assume it's me.

I don't know. Maybe the "leap to liar" happens with people who instinctively believe there's a simple answer for everything. Me, I'm so convinced of the complexity of human life that I'm honestly kind of staggered these massive miscommunications and errors don't happen more often than they do!

Although another possibility does occur to me. I am by nature an optimist (despite what pitfalls arise), and part of that means believing people are, at their core, inherently good. The reason I always want to work out misunderstandings through conversation is because I default to the assumption that your intentions are good, and I hope you believe the same about me. I'll be straight with you, and I naturally expect you're being honest with me.  On the other hand, someone of a more cynical bent might generally assume that the world is always out to screw them - and this is clearly just one more example of the same, goddammit.

Like I said: It's an instinct that I will perhaps never understand. But I've just got to remind myself that all I can do is keep communicating, and keep trying to see things from their point of view, and hope for an eventual meeting of the minds.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 12th, 2013 04:18 am (UTC)
Everything you've just explained is true... and... some people's experience of the world is a pattern of other people overreacting to them, or maltreating them, or attacking them, and living life from that mindset tilts perceptions in the direction of defensiveness.

When they are reacting from an expectation-of-threat, the adrenaline burst of perceived risk means that higher analysis / cognition is temporarily blocked. They're just doing threat assessment, and the brain literally can't think past that until they come back down.

Because you start from a world-view that people are inherently good, generally trustworthy, and generally safe, you don't get the adrenaline juicing from a misunderstanding.
Aug. 12th, 2013 01:38 pm (UTC)
WOW! YES! I am very similar to you on this way of thinking, including being naturally optimistic and assuming that people are good, so therefore misunderstandings must be attributed to simple variations in the way we process information. I loved reading this! Thank you for sharing it!
Rose Wolfe
Jan. 28th, 2014 04:47 am (UTC)
This reminds me of a relative whose opinion is the only one that matters to her. In fact, she has said that her perception is the reality - not a reality or her reality, the one and only reality. You have a mature and introspective nature, not all people are so inclined.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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