voices in the family

What’s behind secrets and lies


The hunt for Edward Snowden, the American who leaked details about national security surveillance programs plays out as a story about secrets and lies.

Secrets and lies can be empowering, but they can also erode trust in any relationship—at home, at work, and certainly with the powers that be.

Dr. Dan Gottlieb asks his guests Charles V. Ford and David Livingstone Smith what’s behind the secrets and lies we tell? When are they helpful, and when are they hurtful?

Charles Ford is a professor of psychiatry at UAB School of Medicine. He’s written Lies, Lies, Lies: The Psychology of Deceit (1996). His book is going to be published in Russian next month–its fourth foreign language translation.

David Livingstone Smith is a professor of philosophy at the University of New England. He’s the author of Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind and most recently: Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others (winner of the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf award for non-fiction).


Recommended reading:

  • Lies, Lies, Lies: The Psychology of Deceit by Charles Ford
  • Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind by David Livingstone Smith
  • Conquering Deception by Jef Nance
  • The Truth About Lying: How to Spot a Lie and Protect Yourself from Deception by Stan Walters
  • The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life by Robert Trivers
  • The Truth About Lying: Why and How We All Do It & What to Do About It by Gini Graham Scott, PhD
  • Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life by Sissela Bok
  • Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception by Daniel Goleman

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  • Scott Williams

    I heard part of the conversation today and sorry to say I was disappointed. There is a great distinction between holding one thoughts and lying. That distinction did not seem to be made in todays discussion. I believe that the ease with which many members of our society lie, keep our society from progressing. If you know that others cannot have confidence in what you say, how can you have confidence in what they say? Thus confidence in fellow man declines. I also believe that lying is a symptom of lack of confidence in ones own ability and value. I recall reading a passage in Robert Heinlein’s book “Stranger in a Strange Land”, in which an attorney was standing in a field with several other people and he asked a woman there, “what color is that house over there?” Her response was, “it’s white on this side”. That reflects a deeper understanding of truth than we typically acknowledge. Perhaps we could all strive a little harder for that understanding and say what we mean and mean what we say. Oh, I do believe there are places, conditions, situations to lie. If you need to lie to save your life or another’s, I would do that, probably. In espionage. Otherwise, hold your thoughts if you don’t want the other peron (people) to be aware of them. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts, Scott

  • Emile Henwood

    Our country’s reputation as a world leader has eroded because we have compromised and sold out the intrinsic values of our predictable stability, and many of the core values that were once depended upon by economies and governments throughout the world. From its founding, our country’s collateral has historically been built on our trustworthiness – which has been seriously compromised. Lies that surfaced around no-doc loans and derivatives, etc. are foundationally unsustainable, undermining collateral valuations. We have a trust deficit in this country – people no longer trust our institutions of power. A portion of the collateral supporting long-term investments consists of hard work and accurate information – creating sustainability; and true sustainability must be anchored in truth. These concepts are becoming more difficult to understand in our country due to the growing “historical illiteracy” of an entire generation.

  • Gini Tucker

    I must admit that I too was very disappointed in this show. After being excited about the topic I found the handling of it unfathomably simplistic. For being experts I cannot at all understand how the differentiation was not made between the type/enormity/severity of the lies or secrets. Yes, secrets do destroy people and families; secrets such as sexual abuse, not secrets such as having cheated on a diet. Treating all secrets and lies as the same makes the conversation ridiculous and irrelevant. Thank you, Gini




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