When you think of qualities you want in a partner, loyalty and honesty are probably at the top of the list. After all, what’s the use of being with someone you can’t trust to be faithful and forthcoming with you? However, there’s one of those characteristics that trumps the other, at least according to a new study, and it’s not what you might think.
Maybe loyalty makes us lie. Cornell University’s John Angus D. Hildreth and University of California Berkeley’s Cameron Anderson wanted to find out whether loyalty mattered more to people in relationships than being honest and what they uncovered is kind of interesting. Basically, the more we strive to be loyal to our partners, the more likely we are to lie to them. Huh.
A lot of our lies come from a good place. Think of when you make plans with your partner on Monday for Friday night. You’re going to go get some food and see a movie, but by Friday you really can’t be bothered. You don’t want to hurt their feelings by telling them you just want to sit around in your pajamas and eat greasy takeout, so you lie and say something came up. This behavior is way too common, and while it comes from wanting to preserve your partner’s feelings, it’s still better to be honest.
It means you care about other people’s feelings. It’s good to be empathetic towards other people, especially those we care about. As the study reveals, when you do something like telling someone their haircut looks great when you really don’t like it, you’re attempting to boost their self-esteem because you don’t want them to feel bad about themselves and/or damage your friendship. That can’t be all that harmful, right? This kind of lie is called “prosocial” and is better than the kind of lies used to help you get ahead, the study says.
“Loyal lies” are the worst kind. To take things out of a relationship context, consider, for example, followers of a particular political group. Trump’s followers are guilty of lying in order to cover up the president’s reprehensible and often illegal behavior, and they do so to preserve his social standing (and, one imagines, his job). Trump himself is guilty of lying, covering up his actions and beliefs in order to maintain his popularity with his followers. That’s where lying becomes seriously harmful and totally immoral. The people lying don’t get that, of course, because they feel “a moral imperative to act in the best interests of the group.” After all, if they didn’t lie, they risk “negative social judgment, ostracism and social exclusion.” Boo hoo!
Liars value loyalty over honesty. Perhaps it sounds obvious, but people who lie for the sake of their friendships/relationships truly believe that maintaining those relationships is more important than whether or not they’re honest in them. If they have to tell some fibs to make that the case, they don’t mind. I’m not sure how I feel about that…
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