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True or false? You must lie to succeed

In a society that sometimes values ambition over honesty, is it necessary to lie to get ahead? If so, is it worth the risk? Susan Shapiro Barash, author of "Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets," explores the role of deception in our culture.
/ Source: TODAY

Several news stories about deception have come to the forefront of the news at the same time that my book, "Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets: The Truth about Why Women Lie," is being published.

A young woman, Lauren Cleri, who appeared on Fox TV's reality show "Moment of Truth" last week, failed a polygraph test when she said she believed she is a good person. News also broke that "Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years" by Misha Defonseca, is falsified, and that "Love and Consequences" — a new memoir that's by Margaret B. Jones, aka Margaret Seltzer, has been canceled. The book was recalled by the publisher once it was revealed that it was completely fabricated, according to the New York Times. Finally, the Associated Press reported that Robert Irvine, host of the Food Network show "Dinner: Impossible" had padded his resume with lies, including a false claim that he has cooked for the Royal Family.

With so much mendacity in the air, we have to ask how much our culture values the truth and how much we are invested in lies. The mixed message is that we should be honest — but that we should also do whatever it takes to get ahead.

The risks that Lauren Cleri, two authors and one chef have taken to achieve their fame have no upside, since each has been caught. Their secrets are out and the lies have damaged their reputations and futures. Yet the fact that they chanced it at all raises the question of how advantaged you are when you lie and get away with it. And if the truth is not remarkable or appealing, does that mean it doesn't count?

Because it is so difficult to get ahead in our culture, and because recognition and success are so highly touted, it might be hard to resist an opportunity to beat the system. This is where a lie becomes a tool. The rationalization is that this type of lie is a "designated lie," which, according to my study, means the lie overpowers the person's moral code.

To complicate matters, women and men alike have been schooled in small lies — you say you have the flu when you just want to cancel a dinner date, you say your friend looks good in a dress when she doesn't, you say you like a gift when you hate it. While these lies seem fairly harmless and fall into the category of "compassionate lies" — meaning one lies to protect someone's feelings — the lies that carry real weight are significant and can have repercussions.

Even if a lie starts out a "beneficial lie" (which translates into "My lie is more important than the truth," which 80 percent of the women I surveyed believe), a lie and secret can go too far. When readers and fans are fooled by someone they respect, someone they expected honesty from, we have to ask at what price is it so important to win, to be recognized and to succeed.

Perhaps the authors, chef and hopeful young woman — a guest on a television show that fascinates us because it's all about truth and lies — are lying to themselves. In my research, I found that when women lie to themselves, it's often the trickiest lie of all. Although women use this technique as a coping mechanism to get through the tough times, it can go too far. Women can lie to themselves to the point where they launder their tales into truths that come out clean. But it doesn't always work, and the secrets and accompanying lies, once uncovered, can leave destruction in their wake, as evidenced in these news stories that have such a disturbing ring to them.