Why People Lie: Investigating the Truth About Deception
At first I'm skeptical of this reasoning. If something never happened, how could anyone trick herself into believing it did? Ariely had an answer for this, too. In one of his experiments, people who cheated on a test were given certificates confirm-ing their dishonest scores. Over time the liars were more likely to believe that their exaggerated performance was an accurate reflection of their abilities. Getting confirmation, in this case in the form of certificates, can help make it easier to think of a lie as true. "Believing our lies is an incredibly important human capacity," Ariely says. "Without it, we risk living in terrible conflict all the time."
This helped explain why my guilt continued to gnaw at me so many years later. Unlike the testers, I had never taken part in the activity I lied about, nor was I ever in a situation to reinforce the falsehood.
While it was too late to come clean to my friend—we've since lost touch, and I'm sure she has long forgotten our conversation—I had to find a way to make peace with the lie. The simplest solution: finally taking a ride in a hot-air balloon. I found a local company on the Internet and was booked on a ride by the next weekend. Terrified of heights, I white-knuckled my way through the first agonizing minutes as the basket soared skyward. But somewhere over the emerald green hillside, I was overcome with a surprising sense of calm—the freeing feeling that comes when you've done the right thing. Now I had a true story to tell.
Sarah Jio is the author of four novels. Her most recent, The Last Camellia (Plume), was published in May.
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