Monthly Archives: July 2012

Apparently, we are all liars :-)

I don’t even pretend to read every word in the newspapers here, but there are some columns that I catch whenever I can.  Kind of like I do with some of the opinion columns of the NY Times – Doud, Collins, Friedman, Krugman…what, you didn’t know I was a liberal at heart?  🙂

In the Indian newspapers, I like to read Shobha De, Santhosh Desai and Pritish Nandy.  Chetan Bhagat can be insightful sometimes and not so much other times but net-net it’s usually not a loss. The monsoons in Mumbai are making my commutes long drawn out expeditions these days, whether it is raining or not (why is that?). Therefore, I have more time than usual to read the newspapers (still a hard-copy paper habit here).

It Started With One, Little Newspaper Column

A recent column caught my attention – by Pritish Nandy, who has a knack for courting controversy (that’s what makes him so interesting), it was called The Magic of the Lie.  A good read, his opinion was as usual riddled with contention and irony.

His premise is simple – humans lie – they always have, and they always will.

His second premise is that there is a very good reason for all this lying. We don’t tell the truth because the truth is hard, and lies give us something good to believe in, as in –

“Lies are an integral part of our survival strategy. They are what make this world go round.”

He supports this premise with a sampling of historical, political, professional, religious, personal and relationship lies. Here’s an example –

“The calculus of all faith is a lie. The history we read is often a lie. It’s almost entirely documented by court historians hired by ruling dynasties to make them look good.. So their crimes are glossed over. The ugliness is airbrushed. So is the wanton bloodshed and brutality.

Much of what we call civilisation is a lie created to defend what is actually colonisation of the mind. Most nations are born out of carnage and tears. Yet we create new mythologies that lend a purpose to our sense of nationhood.”

Next Stop:  Research in Psychology

Of course I had to check up on these declarations to see how large his B.S. element and entertainment factor was.  And lo and behold, I found a treasure trove of articles and opinions on humans and lies. I’m not sure you are all ready for this. Think you can you handle it?

One good article I found was Why We Lie, easy to read and absorb while backed up by some serious research in psychology. It doesn’t even question the premise that we lie but just goes on to explain why we do it. Why do we do it?

“It boils down to the shifting sands of the self and trying to look good both to ourselves and others, experts say.”

…”Many animals engage in deception, or deliberately misleading another, but only humans are wired to deceive both themselves and others, researchers say. “

…”The study, published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, found that 60 percent of people had lied at least once during the 10-minute conversation… 

“People almost lie reflexively,” Feldman says. “They don’t think about it as part of their normal social discourse.” But it is, the research showed.

…”We want to be agreeable, to make the social situation smoother or easier, and to avoid insulting others through disagreement or discord.”

So now you know.

And for a bit of a lesson in morality (from the same article):


Not all lies are harmful.

In fact, sometimes lying is the best approach for protecting privacy and ourselves and others from malice, some researchers say.

Some deception, such as boasting and lies in the name of tact and politeness, can be classified as less than serious.

But bald-faced lies (whether they involve leaving out the truth or putting in something false), are harmful, as they corrode trust and intimacy—the glue of society.”


Yikes! Enough already!!!  Now, back to what I started out with –

Nandy’s short post is an entertaining read. He’s even made it seem quite believable in parts. (It seems he may be on to something after all).

I can tell you more, but why don’t you just go read itIt’s short, it’s worth it and it’s only one click away…

Do come back and tell me what you think, one liar to another. 🙂

To An eBook On Nothing But…

Wait! I’m not done.  

Since I started at one place and as usual, meandered along to a couple more, I had to mention where this quest led me – to this ebook by best-selling author and neuroscientist, Sam Harris. It’s called (are you ready?) – Lying.

His premise? Since I know that only about .000001% of you will click on this link to find out more, here’s something  that will (maybe) make you check it out –

“In Lying, bestselling author and neuroscientist Sam Harris argues that we can radically simplify our lives and improve society by merely telling the truth in situations where others often lie.

He focuses on “white” lies—those lies we tell for the purpose of sparing people discomfort—for these are the lies that most often tempt us. And they tend to be the only lies that good people tell while imagining that they are being good in the process”.

The book itself is short (the author calls it an essay and it can be read in less than an hour) but is packed with great advice. More than bald-faced lies, it really sheds any false beliefs about the ‘goodness quotient’ that people tend to apply to white lies – those lies that are told because you tell yourself you don’t want to hurt the person you are talking to.

Who is not guilty of a white lie…or a few? We tell ourselves that we are doing it to be kind, to do good, blah, blah, blah…

Contrary to the article above, Harris puts an emphasis on the importance of not giving into the comfort and ease of white lies with an assertion that they can be just as damaging as the other kind.

Possibly one of the best, most powerful (and yet such a simple) takeaway from this book is this:

Honesty is a gift we can give to others. It is also a source of power and an engine of simplicity. Knowing that we will attempt to tell the truth, no matter what the circumstances, leaves us with little to prepare for. We can simply be ourselves.

Just because, as Mr. Nandy claims, everyone in the world is (consciously or not) lying, doesn’t mean you have to!

And Finally That Famous Indian Story

And last but not least, in support of Nandy, one only has to turn to the complex stories that are part of a famous Indian epic.

How much do you know about the deceit that embroils so many characters and stories of Mahabharata? Take for example the story of Drona and the crafty deceit involved in killing him – positively Machiavellian! Just one of the many, wondrous, intricate, interwoven stories of this famed epic from India. It tells you a lot about human (and godly!) nature, and would not have been the epic that it is without…lies.


Really, Mr. Nandy, look what you started now!






“We live in an age of progress”

You watch TV news or read the daily newspaper, and it’s hard not to get discouraged and depressed by all the ‘bad’ things happening in the world. Right now.

Plus you have people like me, who every now and then need a swift kick in the behind – when there is the slightest threat of us turning into cynics (even temporary ones).  I re-read a couple of recent blog posts and decided that I was right there on the edge.  That has simply got to stop!  

That is why I thought Fareed Zakaria‘s commencement address at Harvard this year was so refreshing. Sometimes, we just need to tell ourselves about the other side – about the good things in this world and this time in our lives.

He called his speech, “We live in an age of progress”.  How appropriate.

Since you may not have time or the inclination to read the text of his entire speech, I have done you a big favor (you’re welcome :-)) and listed here the main points that he made (the main points that resonated with me, of course).

To tell you the truth I mostly did this for myself because it gave me the opportunity to go back and re-read what he had said, and to really absorb it. I hope you feel like I did – that these words of wisdom are worth a read.

I have included actual excerpts below. After all, why mess with great material?

First he had this to say:

… you’re likely to hear that we are living through grim economic times, that the graduates are entering the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. The worries are not just economic. Ever since 9/11, we have lived in an age of terror, and our lives remain altered by the fears of future attacks and a future of new threats and dangers. Then there are larger concerns that you hear about: The Earth is warming; we’re running out of water and other vital resources; we have a billion people on the globe trapped in terrible poverty.

So, I want to sketch out for you, perhaps with a little bit of historical context, the world as I see it.

Then, he made these counter-points:

About war and peace:

The world we live in is, first of all, at peace — profoundly at peace.  The richest countries of the world are not in geopolitical competition with one another, fighting wars, proxy wars, or even engaging in arms races or “cold wars.” This is a historical rarity. You would have to go back hundreds of years to find a similar period of great power peace.

 The number of people who have died as a result of war, civil war, and, yes, terrorism, is down 50 percent this decade from the 1990s. It is down 75 percent from the preceding five decades, the decades of the Cold War, and it is, of course, down 99 percent from the decade before that, which is World War II. Steven Pinker says that we are living in the most peaceful times in human history, and he must be right because he is a Harvard professor.

About economic growth:

Even in the current period of slow growth, keep in mind that the global economy as a whole will grow 10 to 20 percent faster this decade than it did a decade ago, 60 percent faster than it did two decades ago, and five times as fast as it did three decades ago.

About life and death:

Life expectancy across the world has risen dramatically. We gain five hours of life expectancy every day — without even exercising! A third of all the babies born in the developed world this year will live to be 100.

About progress in technology:

Your cellphones have more computing power than the Apollo space capsule. That capsule couldn’t even Tweet! So just imagine the opportunities that lie ahead.

About education:

Look at the number of college graduates globally. It has risen fourfold in the last four decades for men, but it has risen sevenfold for women.

About the voice of women:

If you are wondering whether women are in fact smarter than men, the evidence now is overwhelming: yes. My favorite example of this is a study done over the last 25 years in which it found that female representatives in the House of Congress were able to bring back $49 million more in federal grants than their male counterparts. So it turns out women are better than men even at pork-barrel spending. We can look forward to a world enriched and ennobled by women’s voices.

About America and the future:

I remind you that this is a country that still has the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, that dominates the age of technology, that hosts hundreds of the world’s greatest companies, that houses its largest, deepest capital markets, and that has almost all of the world’s greatest universities. There is no equivalent of Harvard in China or India, nor will there be one for decades, perhaps longer.

About America’s role in the world:

The United States is also a vital society. It is the only country in the industrialized world that is demographically vibrant. We add 3,000,000 people to the country every year. That itself is a powerful life force, and it is made stronger by the fact that so many of these people are immigrants.

They — I should say we — come to this country with aspirations, with hunger, with drive, with determination, and with a fierce love for America. By 2050, America will have a better demographic profile than China. This country has its problems, but I would rather have America’s problems than most any other place in the world.

About rising to challenges:

When I tell you that we live in an age of progress, I am not urging complacency — far from it. We have had daunting challenges over the last 100 years: a depression, two world wars, a Cold War, 9/11, and global economic crisis. But we have overcome them by our response. Human action and human achievement have managed to tackle terrible problems.

We forget our successes. In 2009, the H1N1 virus broke out in Mexico. 

…the Mexican health authorities identified the problem early, shared the information with the WHO, learned best practices fast, tracked down where the outbreak began, quarantined people, and vaccinated others. 

…The result was that the virus was contained, to the point where, three months later, people wondered what the big fuss was and asked if we had all overreacted. We didn’t overreact; we reacted, we responded, and we solved the problem.

…There are other examples. 

…When we can come together, when we cooperate, when we put aside petty differences, the results are astounding.

And about a different perspective

So, when we look at the problems we face — economic crises, terrorism, climate change, resource scarcity — keep in mind that these problems are real, but also that the human reaction and response to them will also be real. We can more easily map out the big problem than the thousands of individual actions governments, firms, organizations, and people will take that will constitute the solution.


Okay, so this post is much, much more about what Fareed Zakaria had to say than anything I have to say.

But, like I said earlier, why mess with great material?

I have captured most of the high points of his speech. If you are interested in reading all of what he had to say (you should be!), you can read the full text here.

In ending, I reiterate again the title of his speech. It’s something we would do good to remember more often, and especially at times when the daily grind and the bad news media broadcasts combine to hit us the hardest.

Now, repeat after me:

“We live in an age of progress.”

 And, oh yeah, thank you Mr. Zakaria!


Photo Credits:

Fareed Zakaria:  Afternoon Alumni Exercises at Harvard Commencement. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

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