A web writer tells of asking his iPhone Siri for the meaning of life; he got this reply: “Try to be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book every now and then, get some walking in and try to live in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”
Not my Siri. When I inquired for life’s meaning, my iPhone Siri said: “All evidence to date suggests it’s chocolate.”
Chocolate is the meaning of life?
Well, in one sense I can go along with such an assertion – if it’s a chunk of dark chocolate alongside a cup of Mexican coffee – but, because I appreciate weightier answers, I queried Siri again. I said, “Siri, what is the meaning of life?”
This time, Siri delivered its bedrock answer: “I can’t answer that.”
I should have stopped with the chocolate.
You’ve seen it in the detective movies, the classic scene where police detectives repeat their questions over and over, and the defendant, often an attractive starlet, says, “I already answered that! Why do you keep asking me the same questions?”
It’s the belief that because ensuing responses vary, repeated questions may provide a less blemished view of the truth. Still, it’s only one way to reveal if someone is lying. Business Insider writer Ashley Lutz, in a 2012 feature titled “Former Detective Reveals How to Tell When Suspects Are Lying,” asked a one-time Ohio police detective how to tell when a suspect is untruthful. In short, the detective said:
• Liars often give pre-emptive notice, meaning, early on, the wrongdoer reports something may have gone wrong;
• Liars may exhibit inappropriate emotions, such as unexpected coolness when experiencing a serious loss, one that would cause others to be emotional;
• Liars may offer excessive details, which could indicate a planned story;
• Untrue stories have inconsistencies, especially when questions are repeated;
• Liars stall for time, saying, for example, “Huh?” when asked a direct question, to gain time in which to devise an answer; and
• Liars often propose alternative explanations that could substitute for the truth.
The Business Insider story cautioned that some persons are exceptions to the above assigns, because persons enduring a serious personality disorder may scrupulously deceive themselves, meaning lies become their reality.
Siri’s “truths” are scripted, of course, and we have no idea of that writer’s mental health.
INNOCENT LIES, YOURS?
In an August 2012 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article titled “The Case for Lying to Yourself,” writer Sue Shellenbarger quoted University of British Columbia professor Del Paulhus, who said self-deception isn’t just lying or faking, but is a deeper and more complicated phenomenon. “It involves strong psychological forces that keep us from acknowledging a threatening truth about ourselves,” the professor said. The WSJ story said believing we’re more talented gives us a confident personal style; this type of self-deception may fool others to our advantage.
Is this a good thing? Yes and no.
In a 2008 Psychology Today article titled “Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: Truth, Lies and Self-Deception,” Dr. Stephen A. Diamond said none of us are beyond deceiving ourselves. He said people often dismiss facts that are incompatible with their myths of themselves, in favor of other, less threatening and more collaborative ones. Diamond speaks of contradictory beliefs and types of cognitive dissonance – inconsistent thoughts and beliefs – that lead us to disregard information that negates our self-image.
On the diet-soda side of life, such behavior can be annoying, but self-deception can lead to ruin if integrated into business practices; thus it’s important for small business owners to analyze their business policies, because such policies reflect the deep-seated beliefs of the business. Twisting reality and not realizing you’re doing it is a dangerous practice in business management, but one that can be revealed by asking questions and then asking them again. For example, the Harvard Business Review “Guide to Finance Basics for Managers” asks three questions that appear simple but give a clear view of business practices:
• Do you know which of your customers, brands and product lines bring the most profits and, as well, which ones lose money?
• Do such support functions as R&D, sales and marketing set their own agendas, or do they closely collaborate with other groups within the company?
• Do you have (and supervise) performance metrics that optimize the firm’s overall profitability?
Scribble your brief but detailed answers on a sheet of copy machine paper. Once done, get another sheet and, detective-like, ask the questions again.
Different answers, right?
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