Lies, Cynicism and Suspicion

Lies, Cynicism, and Suspicion

Have you ever been surprised to find someone you trusted lied to you? Or worse than this have you ever realized that people that you know personally are capable of enormous deception without any emotional pain to themselves?


I asked the questions above, because it seems, that I am finding this kind of behavior all around me. Perhaps this is due to my aging, it is a truism that, as we age we become hardened and inflexible concerning the view we have of our social world. I like to believe I'm being objective in this essay. I want to examine in depth three concepts: lies, cynicism, and suspicion. The word conception is a misnomer here. We have idealized notions of lies, cynicism, and suspicion, yet we perceive them all through our real-world involvements. We perceive lies from being told untruths, and similarly, we become cynical as a result of being deceived, of course, last of all we become suspicious when we find deception in operation. Specifically, we discover the truth about something of which we had been deceived. So, we will look at all of these related human experiences.



Lies are told for a variety of reasons, and likewise, the people telling them are of varied natures. Some are cruel, unfeeling psychopaths, others are loving and gentle persons, and still, others are scared, helpless victims themselves. Let's not forget the liar who does so compulsively without rhyme or reason. These liars are emotionally imbalanced and their mendacious behavior is better left to another essay, not this one.


Lying is when a person attempts to deceive another about the truth, to which they are privy. Well, that is the simple definition. If we look deeper into lying, we find it means something about the perpetrator of the lie. The liar lies for a purpose. I am referring to sane liars here. Not the mentally deranged liar, that lies without a purpose in mind. We will exclude them from our discussion and examine only sane liars. As an example, a person who has committed a crime that is punishable by extreme measures will lie to avoid that punishment. It is important to remember this because lying is sometimes wrongly connected with other human faults like being mistaken, negligence, or even confusion. I've heard people in conversation say to one another something like this:


You lied to me, you said that it was only gonna cost such and such.

And the other person will say:


Yeah, I thought it did, but the price went up. I swear I didn't know.

Yeah, I bet you didn't, you're lying!

Aw come on you know I wouldn't do that.


And the person accused of lying probably didn't know. He or she is just mistaken, confused, or negligent about his or her statements of fact. This is not lying. It should be understood that lies are always connected with a purposive end. Being wrong about something, which you believe to be true can never be interpreted as a lie. The real liar premeditates and lies to an end. He intends to deceive his victim for some reason. That's real lying. And then something much more interesting is going on. Going on in the mind of the liar, I mean.

What I'll call malicious liars are not having an experience the morally inclined are having. These people do not feel remorse and guilt for deceiving others by their designs. They have no conception that their deceptions are harmful. They may be narcissists seeking the adoration of all they converse with. They have no sense that they've done any moral wrong to their victims. Worst these people can feel contempt for their deceived prey. Yet, not all persons lying are this cold and cruel. People lie for other reasons too. They lie from fear.

We've all seen movies where a character is being held by criminal actors and told, that if he doesn't tell them the truth about a matter of fact, he will be killed. He proceeds to lie about the information that his captors desire. This person is lying to preserve his life. Still, the paradigm is the same: you weave a deceptive story to another person for a purpose. Then there is lying for a noble and heroic end. Suppose you know that a close relative is terminally ill and the relative doesn't. You meet a gravely ill person in a hospital. It's a woman. She thinks, she will survive and has an unshakable belief in her survival. You can't bear to tell her what you know, so you lie. You agree with all her pronouncements about her living on. You agree that she's getting better, even when she coughs spasmodically in a fit that wracks her whole body. She is your mother and you can't bear to tell her the truth. Later at home, you break down and begin to cry at the edge of your bed, knowing you've lied to your mother. you intended to spare her, the pain of knowing she was dying, but you still lied to her. As extraordinary as this sounds, you too have perpetrated a lie upon a victim to an end. You lied not to cause this loved one any more pain, and perhaps yourself the pain of watching her suffer, it is still a lie. I know it seems out of context to use the terms: victim and perpetrate here, however, in an objective sense this is what is happening. Your mother has not been spared any pain it might be argued that she suffers more facing her death, after believing your deception.


I've described some cases of lying and in all of them, the structure is the same while the reasons vary. Lies are calculated untruths designed to deceive their intended targets. With that said, we move on.


With cynicism, we are in a different landscape. Here we are the doubting and wary observer. Cynics don't trust the real intentions of others. They question every action, real or imagined of their fellow human beings. In a strange sense, it is related to lying. It's when you believe that most of your fellows are deceptive beings. Thus, in that sense, a cynic is a believer that liars predominate on this planet. The cynic is closely related to the paranoid personality as I'm sure anyone will recognize. The cynic has a rational mind and doesn't see plotting and militating against him everywhere as the clinically paranoid would.


A cynic becomes an unbeliever in human sincerity through experiencing life. He sees that people lie. He recognizes this with a growing revulsion. The cynic may have at one time, been an innocent, unsuspecting person. He may have even placed value on the veracity of those around him. And again to exemplify, let us imagine a person that has owned a small construction business for 20 years. In 20 years he has employed about 200 subcontractors that have either cheated him for their services by overcharging or failed to perform as he had expected. He's been party to 10 civil suits against some of these subcontractors to recover funds advanced to them. The time and money he's spent doing this has adversely affected his profession. He remembers ruefully all the cases as he sips a fine brandy in his penthouse suite. He has no wife or children; he's devoted his entire life to the business. He clenches his fist together hunching over a glass of brandy he set on a pure marble table in his lavish, large kitchen. The lost time and cost of hiring attorneys, he recalls made him lose a big shopping mall job about 2 years ago. He is a successful builder and makes a moderate profit from his firm. Nevertheless, he feels that most people can't be trusted. He has formed an idea in his mind, that people can't be trusted. He has a few friends to whom he can give trust, he finds almost no one to place faith in. This person is a cynic. Yet, again there is something deeper to the personality of a classic cynic. He is close to our next topic of discussion suspicion, yet not quite in that set.


The cynic is wrongly basing all his beliefs on his present and past experiences. He has learned through his profession that it is awash with liars and deceitful people, thus generalizing this perceptual experience to all people. The cynic is to my mind the most flawed of all I consider in the tripartite. He is limited by his personal experiences and comes to hold stern beliefs based on what he has experienced in the past. Even when new experiences contradict these beliefs, the cynical person continues to believe in his notion of all people as being untrustworthy.


Cynicism abounds in the world, as far as I can see. I'm not even sure if I'm not a cynic. I am sure I am at times. We are exposed to it in the cinema and on TV all the time. Who hasn't seen an exchange where one person asks a rhetorical question of another, only to have them either not give the information requested or answer negatively? The questioner then says: You know perfectly well what I'm talking about! How many times have you heard this statement in a movie or on a TV program? Too many you'd say? Well, as you might expect it's a clear example of cynicism. He knows that the person questioned knew the correct answer all along. Or so he believes, that's cynical. Even if the respondent does know the correct answer he's still expressing hostile intentions. You see, cynicism focuses on the state of mind of the active party, not the passive one. Those who seek to know are the ones who become wary of others. A cynic is often combative and tinged with hostility.


Worst than the liar, in the cynic we see the seeds of other human ills like: racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. If we begin to let our personal experiences rule our future views, we become cynical. I heard a good example of cynicism a few years ago, on National Public Radio. (As an aside, I am sure some readers might cynically believe this government-funded medium is being tilted toward deceit in its reporting.) The report illustrates how a cynic can be a pernicious element in our social world.


A journalist interviewed a dean of a large American university that had a statistical record of declining the entrance of Hispanic and African-American students to graduate school, based upon their marginal undergraduate GPA scores. The reporter interviewing him revealed that the Dean's experience with all these ethnic groups had been negative. That is to say, he had found that students of these groups had failed during their graduate matriculation. And for this reason, he was reluctant to approve applications by people from these groups for graduate school study. While this stance might outrage many, if we look at it from the perspective of the cynic, it makes perfect sense. It highlights how a person in this category can be quite dangerous if given a license in any area of social interaction.


This mental state of being is very much perceptive. We suspect others in most instances through direct contact with them.


Let's say you're in a movie theater at a shopping mall and fish 20 dollars in 3 five-dollar bills and singles from your wallet to get refreshments before the show starts. You don't check the money you have and not realizing it, you drop a five-dollar bill as you get up. You know two people are right next to you in your seat, talking to one another and not paying you much attention. As you get to the vendor stand you order popcorn, a large root beer, and maybe some uh uh you hesitate and just then you pull out what you think is enough, and as the attendant comes back, you realize, looking at your cash you're missing ..what..five dollars? How could that be? You think back as the attendant announces: that'll be $8.50, Sir... What? Oh yeah, here. You are convinced you must've dropped it on the seat next to you in the theater. You hurry back to where you were seated and the couple is still sitting next to your seat. They are giggling and eyeing you mockingly. You ease back into your seat, get up, and search underneath, looking for the missing five-dollar bill. The couple is talking about the upcoming film and once again they are eyeing you looking over to see what you are doing. You lift other folding seats still searching. You check your pockets: nothing! Then, defeated you sit down in the seat again, sip your soda, and start munching on the popcorn. It occurs to you, that those two little bastards next to you may have spotted the five bucks and snatched it. You have no proof they did. It's just a feeling you have. You feel uncomfortable next to them as the trailers come on, and you decide to change to another seat, at this point, you're convinced the sonabitches did grab your five bucks. They don't seem to be exhibiting any guilty behavior. This mental experience is what I would classify as suspicion.


The suspicious person has a belief. His belief may or may not be well-founded in reality. In most cases, it comes from a personal experience however, one can be suspicious of almost anything. One can be suspicious of the authorship of work or art, or the writer of a piece of literature, or the discoverer of a principle of science, or the theory a scholar proposes, or of the tenets of a religion--ad infinitum. I said before, that in most cases, it's a personal experience that most often raises suspicion.


Suspicion may seem to be a minor human flaw, but it is the glue that leads to the two other concepts I've discussed. Suspicious people look for liars. Suspicious people become cynics. It is suspicion that makes people untrusting and it is suspicion that ferrets out liars. It might seem that suspicion is a good state of mind to be in. After all, it keeps us alert and ever-ready to question the real intentions of our fellow human beings. To the contrary suspicion can make us feel unsafe and insecure in our social world. Suspicion is not a good state of mind.

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As a final word, all of the three are related yet none is like the other. Beware of what you encounter as you go through a typical day at work or at your leisure.

Robleh Wais 6/6/08