I finally said, “Stop Lying to me! Enough lies. Is everything a lie?”
And then there was quiet. And then there were more experiences.
And then I said, “Ah, but I am also a liar.”
And then there was quiet, and some more experiences.
And then I thought to myself, “Well, aren’t we all liars then?”
I looked at my friend, and it became apparent that he was lying to me. And then at my other friend, and he was lying to himself. And then I looked at my third friend, and he told me about he lied, and at a fourth friend, who told me that he hated liars.
And then I quietly smiled and stopped talking to them.
I started a dialogue with myself.
“How do we lie? How do we deceive? Why do we do it? Is it possible to identify lies, to know an honest answer from a deceitful one, to know the real intentions of others? Is it possible to recognize when we deceive ourselves? Or perhaps I am thinking about all this the wrong way. Perhaps we are meant to lie. Perhaps lying is a necessary part of life, and instead of trying to study it, I should experience it – the beauty and ugliness of it, to embrace all of its sides…”
Be Spotless: the indispensable condition of perfection. Few live without some weak point, either physical or moral, which they pamper because they could easily cure it. The keenness of others often regrets to see a slight defect attaching itself to a whole assembly of elevated qualities, and yet a single cloud can hide the whole of the sun. There are likewise patches on our reputation which ill-will soon finds out and is continually noticing. The highest skill is to transform them into ornament. So Caesar hid his natural defects with the laurel. – Baltasar Gracian (The Art of Worldly Wisdom)
The common, cliched advice is to be open about your weaknesses, but this serves no purpose. If you reveal your weaknesses to others, they will be exploited. You not only unlock the possibility of others exploiting you with the information they have, but they will respect you less. Revealing your flaws signals a weakness of character. They will see that you cannot control your emotions, and this will diminish from your credibility. Napoleon was one of the most accomplished generals in history, and yet, his chief diplomat Talleyrand successfully managed to make a fool of him a number of times. One in particular was when Talleyrand helped spread rumors that he was conspiring against Napoleon in secret.
He knew that Napoleon would reveal his biggest weakness: his short temper. He knew that Napoleon would not be able to contain his anger after he had heard news of a conspiracy against him. And he knew this because the great general had revealed this weakness to him in the past in multiple occasions. He gave away a valuable tell.
The cunning Talleyrands of the world do the same; they pay attention to what your weaknesses are, and then they patiently wait for the appropriate moment to expose them. Everyone is a victim of their own psychology. When you understand someone’s psychology, you can find the right triggers. The only defense is to conceal this information. This requires self-control and self-awareness. The cunning know how to extract useful information when you least expect it, when your guard is down, tired, or unfocused.
After Napoleon’s burst of outrage against Talleyrand, when he resorted to personal insults about the latter’s wife – hinting that she was having an affair, the politicians in the room took note of this character flaw. At the same time, Napoleon’s fit of anger was contrasted with Talleyrand’s coolness and nonchalance. This put Napoleon’s credibility at question, how could a leader of a nation, a person in such an important position, have such little control over their temperament? This was question, when it was pondered over in the minds of observers, dutifully accomplished the goal that Talleyrand had from the start.
If you have ever experienced regret after an encounter with someone, where you may have said too much then you understand how easily your emotions can get the better of you. The truth is that no matter how rational you think you are, your emotions are much more powerful. When a certain screw has been twisted, you will enter into a frenzied state, where all calmness and rationality has left you.
In fact, losing your cool is such a common phenomenon that people have happily exploited it for ages. If you personally want to find out what someone else is hiding from you, driving them to their emotional breaking point is a very effective way of doing so. Assume that this person harbors hidden feelings of resentment towards you, assume this person is someone you consider a close friend. Because of your history, you will not normally suspect any malicious thoughts from their side and behave accordingly, never provoking them or pressing them. But if one day, you have an argument, and you push them towards the edge, their true emotions will shine through. It is almost impossible for them to remain in control of their words. The more room you give them to maneuver, the more rope you are giving them to hang themselves with.
If you suspect your girlfriend or boyfriend is cheating on you, do not stupidly accuse them of anything explicitly, but patiently prod them until they make an error. They will give you contradictory responses. Women are excellent at doing this, it is almost a natural tendency for them. It is the indirect pursuit of truth, and for the simple minded and naive, it is an inconceivable tactic, yet it is the most effective.
You must train yourself to never say more than necessary. There’s a saying in arabic that translates to: “Say less words, make fewer mistakes.” If you are unpracticed in the art of concealing knowledge and you are the type of person who doesn’t know how to meticulously craft the right words for every occasion, then the best defensive tactic you can use is to keep quiet.
Train yourself to listen. It is a truly underrated skill to be silent.
“Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful. Cut doors and windows for a room; it is the holes which make it useful. Therefore benefit comes from what is there; usefulness from what is not there.” – Lao Tzu
In the same way, think of a conversation as a physical object like a vessel. How useful and fruitful a conversation is depends on the pauses of silence that both parties are charitable enough to give each other. You do not only want to train yourself to listen so that you can extract hidden truths from the other person but because you want to know what they really think. You want to know what they really think because if lies persist into the future, then resentment will build up, and you will experience much more damaging manifestations of their built up resentment in surprising and undesirable ways.
The remedy is simple: silence. Pay attention to what they have to say, listen to every word. Do not interrupt them. Do not continue their sentences – that is your ego getting in the way, that is just you trying to still feel relevant to the conversation. It is you saying ‘I’m here, don’t forget about me, I have opinions too’! Don’t fall for your own childish compulsions. Instead, focus on what the other person has to say and do not respond until you have formed in your mind a coherent thought. Do not rush.
The other thing you must train yourself to do is to prepare yourself mentally before the conversation. If there is someone who knows how to push your buttons and provoke you, it is only because you trust their opinion. But this is highly irrational. Why take their opinion seriously? Think about how many people there are in the world, think about how many highly intelligent and knowledgeable people fail to agree on even the most fundamental issues. If you take your friend’s opinion seriously, it is not because they are a superior judge of character, but because you have an emotional connection to them. What they think matters to you. But once you acknowledge that your trust in them is purely emotional, then you are now better prepared than before.
Whereas you used to ruminate on what words were said, now you have a more reasonable estimate of their incompetence, you can take them less seriously, and this will allow you to be more calm and rational when speaking to them.
The Prepared Mind
People often get frustrated when the other person is too clam, and this I find very amusing. The irritated and the out of control hate it when they encounter someone who can keep their emotions in check. Talleyrand, the French politician, endlessly amused himself and his colleagues by provoking Napoleon. And he eventually succeeded in getting Napoleon to self-destruct.
The frustrated and the emotional are unprepared, they are untrained. Do not make the same mistake. Alfred Hitchcock used to make sure that every single detail in the film he was shooting was studied thoroughly beforehand. He did this because he hated having to endure the endless squabbles among the people he was working with. So he quietly did his job and once he was confident in the end result, he paid no attention to the bickering and the petty fights that happened around him. He was unfazed because he was experienced enough to expect these emotional outbursts to occur, and he knew that he was getting what he wanted – his own vision implemented.
Don’t allow the Talleyrands of the world to get the better of you. Always be cooler than they are. And like Hitchcock, never leave things to chance. Do not get involved in petty politics, it will only distract you and cloud your judgement. Make the tendency to become emotional, to say more than necessary, to lose your temper a fault that you can exploit in others, rather than a personal vulnerability. This can happen through repeated exposure and a changed mindset.
A novice poker player can’t help but react to his hands. He will sit relaxed with a joyful attitude through many rounds, leaning back on his chair and stretching his legs out nonchalantly. But once two aces show up, he shoots straight up, his hands automatically fold on each other, the smile on his face is immediately replaced with a somber look, and he suddenly becomes very quiet, making as little conversation as possible. He means business!
In life, you start out as a novice poker player, revealing everything that you think and feel. Children are notorious for spilling the family secrets because they are untrained. Yet many adults are no better, and worse, the secrets they know about are more dangerous. But they cannot contain themselves, they have not practiced enough. Don’t make the same mistake.
There is a character in society that has for thousands of years evoked outrage and envy – the courtier. This character is very much alive today. Who is the courtier? He is the king’s companion, the teacher’s pet, the adviser, aide, henchman.
The courtier’s strategy is extreme pragmatism. The courtier understands that the king has the power and he has learned that defying the king would only lead to negative consequences. So he implements his subtle mastery of interpersonal skills in his interactions with the king, flattering him while at the same time disclosing valuable information.
The courtier believes that it is necessary to get the king’s blessings, but knows that he is expendable. He knows that the king is powerful and has many other potential courtiers at his disposal. Thus the courtier constantly feeds the king a steady diet of information and flattery. This information needn’t convey the real interests of the courtier for he is not interested in his own entertainment, but predominantly seeks the satisfaction of the king. Likewise, he needn’t be sincere in his use for flattery, for it is used as a device of manipulation.
The courtier’s main battle is to prove that he is irreplaceable since this is counter to reality. Here is where his genius is most required, but also where his frailties are most deeply exposed. When the courtier tries to impress the king, he takes a risk by doing so. There is the possibility of failure. If the courtier does not succeed in carrying out the mission he promised, his reputation will be tarnished in the eyes of the king, and there can be nothing more debilitating and embarrassing to him than this.
But the courtier is shrewd and will not take unnecessary risks. He will constrain himself to the realm of the achievable. It is not so much the extent of what can be achieved, but rather, the fact of achievement itself that the courtier is after. Remember, he wants to build credibility with the king and this requires a consistent streak of victories. The courtier’s eternal rival is the indentured servant.
The indentured servant also exists in the king’s royal court, but he is treated badly. He is given the mundane tasks and unnecessary work. The servant despises the skilled courtier because he sees in him an unfulfilled ideal. The servant has convinced himself that by being obedient, he will gain favor with the king – that all his good works will be repaid in kind. But the servant inevitably discovers that this is not the case. As he neglects his himself further for the service of the king, he sees that the courtier is being showered with gifts, attention, and trust. Here the servant’s blood boils and he begins to seek revenge, not on the king, but on the courtier.
On the other hand, the courtier sees the servant as an unrighteous version of himself, an undeserving, lazy, and stupid imitation of his art. The courtier cajoles and plans and entertains while the scornful servant merely does what he is told and expects the same benefits.
In your own court, whether at work or in your relationships with people, take note of who the king, servant, and courtier are. They are the archetypal characters of the power hierarchy. Whenever there have been kings, there have always been courtiers and servants.
Everything turns gray when I don’t have at least one mark on the horizon. Life then seems empty and depressing. I cannot understand honest men. They lead desperate lives, full of boredom. – Count Victor Lustig
The manipulator will prey on countless victims, and does not restrict themselves to only one type of victim. As with an addiction of any kind, after a certain threshold has been crossed, there will be a yearning for a higher threshold. Lustig not only tricked honest men and easy targets, he went for the biggest shark of all, Al Capone, and managed to squeeze money out of him. Frank Abagnale started with small deceptions, and then gradually his ploys increased in complexity and risk.
In one story, described in the 48 Laws of Power, Lustig tells Capone that he can double his money, $50,000, in a couple of months. Capone agrees, sensing there was something different about this man, he was curious to see where this was going. A couple of months later, Lustig appears before Capone with $50,000. Lustig did nothing in those two months. He returned the original sum to the gangster.
Capone expected to either double his money or get nothing at all – in the latter case, he was prepared to kill him. But he was shocked to see the tall man return his money to him. Capone paid him $5,000 out of mere charity. Lustig used selective honesty to disarm Capone, who was surrounded by thieves and liars. Capone couldn’t believe that for once, someone didn’t try to scam him. Lustig was subsequently rewarded for his troubles of doing nothing.
It is easy to kill a bird on the wing that flies straight: not so one that twists. Nor always act on second thoughts: they can discern the plan the second time. The enemy is on the watch, great skill is required to circumvent him. The gamester never plays the card the opponent expects, still less that which he wants. – Baltasar Gracian
The deceiver never does what you expect him to do, that is his strength.
People become cynical about the world because they witness the same disappointing patterns of behavior being repeated. The deceiver uses this information to his advantage, by approaching people of power with something new. You can call it ‘refreshing honesty’, but really, it’s merely change people are after. Repetition is boring. People who behave in ways that are predictable never win favor with anyone. Those that stand out do.
In marketing, the surest way to success is by standing out, hence the premise of Godin’s Purple Cow. You will never deceive anyone if you act and behave like the herd. It is when you take some initiative, when you dare to be different, that others will take note of you.
When you do something that is different, you distract the victim.
The essence of deception is distraction. Distracting the people you want to deceive gives you the time and space to do something they won’t notice. An act of kindness, generosity, or honesty is often the most powerful form of distraction because it disarms other people’s suspicions. It turns them into children, eagerly lapping up any kind of affectionate gesture.
One of the laws in Influence: The Science of Persuasion, is reciprocity. It doesn’t pay to be greedy. The clever salesman knows how to concede before asking for something in return. You don’t have to use this tactic to understand the power that it holds over you. You have definitely been approached by many people who simply give you something for free, without expecting anything in return.
This is how Facebook deceives people. It offers them something new, and valuable for ‘free’. The users become addicted to the platform, and more than pay for the free utility with their time and energy. Lustig paid Capone first, he gave him an honest gesture, he returned to him the full sum of money. In return, Capone gave him $5,000 which is what Lustig wanted all along.
It is not possible to understand good without knowing evil. It is the presumption of contrasts: without the antithesis of a thing, that thing could not exist. Light cannot exist without darkness. Positive can’t exist without negative. Strong can’t exist without weak. Masculine can’t exist without feminine.
This is because things have to be measured relative to something else, if you are to classify them. Something is only dark if there is something lighter that you can contrast it to. It is not possible to recognize honesty without recognizing deception.
But there is something fundamentally nebulous and nefarious about deception. People avoid talking about it and understanding it.
“That which you most need will be found where you least want to look” – C.G Jung
But ff you ignore the existence of deception and presume that all people are basically good, then you are an easy target for deception. If you aren’t familiar with the ways in which they can deceive you, then there are more ways to deceive you. If you are incapable of recognizing malicious intent, they will be highly capable of recognizing you as a perfect victim.
If you start with the opposite premise, that people are not basically good, the world looks very different. But the paradox is that by seeing the world in this way, you are doing more good than bad. It is the presumption of innocence that destroys people and society.
Psychologist Carl Jung thought of archetypes as sub-personalities that have their own motivations, if you suppress them or refuse to acknowledge their existence, they will find a way to manifest themselves in your life against your conscious will – and could result in neurosis and psychosis. If you project weakness, cowardice, and evil onto the world and deny these sub-personalities in yourself, then you become more likely to become a victim of your unconscious.
the joker archetype lives within you. A part of you enjoys deception. After-all, deception is a lot more fun than honesty. A case in point is games. Every single game that is worth playing contains elements of deception. Whether it is sports or chess or poker or board games – without deception, the game becomes fundamentally boring.
This is what interests me most about deception. People’s lives are routinely ruined by it, and yet the absence of it creates a boring existence. Deception is the root of most of the world’s evils, and yet one has no choice but to embrace it.