Honesty has not
always been deemed a
virtue. We may remember the “royal lie”
advocated in Plato’s Republic or
recall the legend of the cynic Diogenes who carried a lighted lamp in
daylight to aid him in his search for an honest man.
The traditions represented in many cultures
teach us, often in a charming way, of the virtues of deception. This is true, for example, of the Native
American tales of Coyote or of the European folklore collected in the
of the Brothers Grimm, such as “The Mighty Tailor” (who killed seven
blow). It is true that there are those
who argue that honesty is always the “best policy,” but who among them
assert that he or she always adheres to such a policy?
Most of us, at times, have recourse to
deception, and most of us are honest enough to admit it.
Dishonesty, however –
in spite of its ubiquity – is not a natural tendency in human beings. Rather, it is typically a defensive measure
born of anxiety. To the extent that we are
afraid, we will always be inclined to seek refuge in deception as a
self-preservation. A problem of a
different order arises, however, when we consider the phenomenon of self-deception. How does it
happen that people so frequently
lie to themselves, deceive themselves, “mislead” themselves? What are the roots of this problem of
self-deception, and is it really a problem?
In seeking to answer these questions, let us start at the
with a newborn infant.
Every baby is born
free of dishonesty. We know that this is
the case, for in order to be dishonest, one must know the truth and
subvert it; no newborn infant knows the
truth. The infant does not distinguish
between “true” and “false, for he or she does not gain the cognitive
do so until significant growth and development take place and language
acquired. With growth and development
comes the capacity for concealment and pretense.
At the stage of infancy, the new person merely functions as a
growing organism - either in health or with disturbances.
We might say that the baby is the truth or is in the truth; there is no disharmony between who the
baby is and
who he or she appears to be. In the
language of psychology, we can say that there is insufficient ego
at this time for the baby to be able to lie.
In its natural dependency, the healthy baby remains open to the
and forthright in its self-expression.
On the basis of this openness, he or she then grows into a
child; and it is during early childhood that the young person develops
capacity to distinguish between truth and lie.
One of the
developmental tasks that the young child faces is that of gaining an
capacity to function as a separate person, as an individual. Progress in accomplishing this task becomes
increasingly evident as the young boy or girl learns to walk, to use
to coordinate complicated movements, and to gain control over his or
functions. By the eighteenth month, the
healthy child has differentiated himself or herself considerably from
surrounding world. He or she is avidly
engaged in the adventure of establishing a personal identity rooted in
a more differentiated sense
and this is reflected in the fact that the child’s favorite word at
is “no.” The child’s enjoyment in the
use of the word “no” stems from his or her enjoyment in getting to
he or she is as a unique being, as an independent “self.”
Children at this stage delight in games of
“peek-a-boo” and in early versions of “hide and seek.” 
Part of the healthy developmental process
during this period involves concealing oneself, making oneself
invisible. As babies, young children have
learned to identify various parts of their bodies – eyes, nose,
fingers. Now they are learning to become
separate, whole persons. Learning to
hide the truth - to lie - is an important aspect of this task.
Alexander Lowen has
written that, “Generally speaking, the ability to be deceitful is an
all situations of opposition or contention.”  Inevitably,
in a world of other people, every
child will meet with both opposition and contention.
Such situations – if not excessively
stressful – help to spur the development of the capacities for
self-control, and self-direction. To
take increasing control of his or her life, the child must explore the
possibility of deception. To say “yes,”
one must be able to say “no.” To be
honest, one must be capable of being dishonest.
Lowen asks: “Can a person gain this ability to discriminate
falsehood without exploring the realm of deceit?” He
answers in the negative, and I would
R.D. Laing once
commented that there are many good reasons not to lie, but not being able to lie is not one of the good
reasons. There are people who are so
overwhelmed by feelings of guilt that the thought of lying is abhorrent
them, even for the purpose of self-defense or the defense of loved ones. On the other hand, there are individuals who
seem unable to tell the truth. To
them, lying is a way of being. Such
individuals are generally classified as
psychopaths. Most of us have encountered
such individuals at one time or another in our lives, either in person
the news media. The political arena is a
notorious realm for the flourishing of such types. 
To understand the increasingly
psychopathic culture in which we live, it is helpful to consider both
psychological and sociological factors.
The process of accelerated social and economic change which
the Industrial Revolution in the latter part of the eighteenth century
progressed through the twentieth century has led to the “global”
society of the
present day. In this “new world order,” the pace of competition is
seemingly unrelenting; and there is great pressure to produce, sell,
and make a
profit – at any cost. The old adage –
“it’s either eat or get eaten” – seems to apply. “Externalities”
- such as the destruction of
the natural environment and the melting down of diverse cultural
into a homogenous mélange of sameness - seem a small price to
pay for survival
and “growth.” A key role in facilitating
this competitive process is played by the advertising industry. The goal of advertising is persuasion, and
the means of persuasion utilized often involve the purveying of lies,
directly or indirectly. In our present
culture, this situation corresponds to the tendency of many people to
themselves as commodities and to promote themselves as such – even in
most intimate relationships. Such people
tend to “re-invent” themselves to suit the needs of the moment. Words and images become tools of
manipulation. Uniformity becomes
"diversity,” lies become “truth” and, to use a popular legal term,
communication becomes “parsing.” In a
world of “virtual” reality, whatever can be “sold” is “true.” In such a context, the value of personal
honesty becomes questionable. When this
happens, human beings are confronted with a serious problem. This is necessarily so, because honesty and
healthy functioning go together. When a
basic sense of honesty is lost, we are entitled to conclude that people
trouble. Such a conclusion is justified
by the deeply rooted nature of human honesty itself.
In spite of
appearances to the contrary, personal integrity and forthrightness are
in the biological depths of the human organism.
No healthy person freely chooses deception over honesty as a way
being. It is only when he or she learns
that honesty is penalized and devalued that manipulation of the truth
preferred course of action. Typically,
this takes place in childhood as part of the socialization process in
family, at school, and in the society at large.
One of the consequences of this process is that one learns
only to be dishonest with others but with oneself as well.  In human terms, such a situation is
dysfunctional; in practical terms and in the short run, it has survival
In serious personal
growth work, the question of honesty is a crucial factor.
Breathing, for example, needs to become
deeper in order to increase the energy level and potency of the person;
deeper breathing leads to increased feeling, and if an individual is
prepared to be honest with himself or herself, how can he or she face
the emergence of repressed feelings? The
same holds true at a
verbal level. In order for constructive
change in personality to take place, a person must be prepared to
or her established self-image; but how can this occur if any challenge
self-image is felt to be insulting and threatening?
Both somatically and verbally, an individual
may desire healthy change, but at the same time, he or she may be of
opinion that any transformation in his or her way of being entails
unacceptable risks. In such instances, a
person may indignantly raise the objection: “What right do you have to
my reality? I’m fine!
There’s no problem!” Such an
attitude represents a defense against
unpleasant self-confrontation. With
greater personal honesty, change would be less complicated and easier
achieve, but that is the problem. It is
this very lack of personal honesty – the presence of self-deception -
inhibits constructive growth and development.
Beneath the level of self-deception lies the pain of having been
to, betrayed, and manipulated during one’s formative years. One has been sold a false bill of goods. One then “makes the best of it,” internalizes
the process of deception, and “re-invents” reality.
It is a devilish bargain, born of a devilish
situation, and it results in the type of confusion described by
the tragedy of Macbeth: “Fair
is foul, and foul is fair.”
It is important to
recognize that there is no simple solution to the problem of
this is true in the context of serious personal growth work. By its very nature, such work requires honest
communication between client and instructor.
Rooted in defensive self-deception, the client’s resistance to
discovering unpleasant truths may present a formidable obstacle to
communication.  The art of
confronting resistances is, to a considerable extent, the art of
the degree of forthright communication that is established with the
brought into play in the interest of deeper self-understanding and
personal functioning. In this process,
one must be aware that the client’s thoughts and feelings may well be
to the attitude expressed by Danton, confronting his fate during the
revolution: “Truth, bitter truth.” 
Nonetheless, the gradual emergence of the truth of one’s life,
elaborated through dialogue and clarified in the context of the
overall personal history, can lead to an increased capacity for honesty
deeper commitment to the truth of one’s being.
Genuine movement in this direction represents the challenge and
reward of personal growth.
See Caplan, F. and Caplan, T. The
Second Twelve Months of Life (New
York: Bantam Books, 1980).
Pleasure: A Creative Approach to Life
(New York: Penguin Books, 1970), Chapter 6.
See Lowen, Alexander. Psychopathic
Behavior and the Psychopathic
Personality (New York: Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis,
1976). Also see Meloy, J. Reid. The
Psychopathic Mind: Origins, Dynamics, and Treatment (Northvale,
Jason Aronson Inc., 1992).
See Laing, R.D. The Politics
of the Family and Other Essays (New York: Vintage
See Lawson, J. “Confronting Resistances” in The
Affirmation of Life (Portland, Oregon: Ardengrove Press, 1991). This chapter is available at the
“Publications” page of www.reichian.com.
 Words ascribed to Danton by Stendhal at the beginning of his novel The Red and the Black.