Episode 34: Lies
When peacemakers set out to resolve a conflict, they encounter a flurry of accusations. “He’s lying.” “She’s lying.” “All those scoundrels are lying.” And, for the most part, the accusations are usually accurate. Peacemakers step into minefields of lies.
But the lies are not all equal. They’re not of the same intensity or degree. They vary. So I thought that, in this episode, we might reflect on lying and on the different types of lies. And we might ask how they affect the peace process.
We start our reflection with a look at storytelling. Of course storytellers are liars. They make up stories. They create works of fiction.
Parties in conflict also tell stories. They provide narrative accounts of “what happened.” Their narratives are rarely what we consider to be literal truth. They offer versions of events tailored to Protect Face.
As long as parties fear a Loss of Face, they will be creative in the ways they alter their narrative. They will tell stories that protect their self-image. They will craft accounts that insure they will not be viewed with disgust or repulsion. They paint a picture that allows them to Save Face.
We would never call their narrative accounts the literal truth. However, as long as there is a threat of Face Loss, their accounts are about as close to the truth as peacemakers will come. When the threat lessens during the peace process, parties redraft their accounts. Their narratives inch closer and closer to an accurate rendition of the events that transpired.
Parties who start off demanding their opponents tell the “literal truth” typically prolong the dispute. They exacerbate the threat of Face Loss. They cause the opposing party to dig in and repeat their story. The opposing party clings to their creative conflict narrative. The process stalls.
Of course, as experienced peacemakers, we recognize the irony that usually accompanies strident demands for truth telling. Those who make the loudest demands — that others tell the truth — are usually the most creative storytellers at the table. A strident demand for truth often signals a person is seeking to have their fiction anointed as the official story. They do not want to compete with other truths.
Peacemakers can manage lying that takes the form of creative storytelling. They lead parties through a process of redrafting their conflict narratives. They guide parties toward a shared narrative and they help them accept the differences that arise from a need to Save Face. And they also factor in the subjective nature of man’s perceptions.
But then we graduate to a different kind of lying — intentional efforts to deceive others so as to gain advantage. This involves the strategic use of falsehoods to manipulate others in ways that cause them harm.
Strategic and intentional lying poses a greater threat to peacemaking. Willful distortion of the truth slams headlong into the peacemaking goals of increased transparency and increased unity.
Parties engaged in willful deception usually take exception to mediation and peacemaking. They attempt to derail the process using deception and misdirection. Peacemakers become targets for their deception.
Nonetheless, there’s a slight similarity between intentional fabrication that seeks to take advantage of others and creative storytelling meant to Save Face. They both are rooted in fear.
The degree of fear ranges from a mild need to protect one’s self-image to an extreme fear that demands one destroy all others, as they are an imagined threat to the person’s survival.
The type of fear that motivates chronic and vicious deception often escalates into inciting mobs. When Jesus is dragged before Pilate and falsely accused we see how the Pharisees have incited the mob.
Pilate declares Jesus innocent, but the Pharisees trigger hate and anger. They covertly incite the mob. The Pharisees, afraid of Jesus, fire up base human emotions that cause the mob to chant: “Crucify him; crucify him.” Thus, in the Passion of Christ we find deception playing a key role.
Peacemakers commonly encounter mobs agitated by media lies and covert destructive influences. Deception, gossip, and falsehood trigger fallen man’s primitive emotions. Peacemakers must detect the hidden influences inciting the mobs with their lies. If they fail to disarm the mob, they will fail to bring peace.
The creative storytelling used to protect their self-image differs from lies intended to take advantage of others. Lies that sweeten the conflict narrative and Save Face differ from the intentionally destructive lies. Peacemakers must discern the difference. Peacemakers must learn to navigate through the maze of falsehoods that plague all conflicts.
Hope this helps. Good day. May God bless your efforts to bring peace to a troubled world.