Who are you fooling?

I’m a sucker for honesty and authenticity and integrity and congruence and being true to yourself and all that good stuff. I’ve even said in public that I have a life-long aversion to bullshit, including my own. That seems to resonate with people.

But nice as it is, it’s also a bit apple pie-in-the-sky. It scores well on lofty idealism, but badly on down-and-dirty realism. Time for some Groucho Marx: ‘The secret of life is honesty and fair-dealing; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.’

That sounds like cheap cynicism for laughs but it’s a lot better than that. It neatly sums up an uncomfortable truth explored at length by Robert Trivers in “Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others“.

The essence of Trivers’s insight is that people are good at knowing when someone is lying to them. So the more you really believe what you say, the better you can convince others. And if what you say isn’t true, you have to start by lying to yourself.  Does that remind you of anyone?

Image credit: Valentin de Boulogne, Soldiers Playing Cards and Dice, c. 1618/20