This week, I am thinking about a certain type of lie, that I do not understand because I didn’t grow up with. In the Anglo-Saxon-American culture, yes means yes, no means no and it’s ok to say, “I don’t know yet.” If I personally were to tell a lie, it would only be a deliberate attempt to get away with something that I don’t want the other to know about. But I would never say, “I’ll meet you at 3:00 inshallah” and not show up!
What purpose does this type of lying serve, and what is going through the mind of the person doing it? Avoiding conflict? Is it really so important to be agreeable that you would then inconvenience the person? Your word is your honor! If you habitually lie about things that don’t even matter much, where is the person inside you that another person can connect with? Or is there just a persona?
Some people lie habitually. I have noticed certain cultures don’t like to say no, or they don’t want to disappoint you, or they don’t want to get in a deep discussion about what they can and cannot offer versus what they want. To me, honest back and forth is the basis of relationship!
For example, someone has been doing this to me repeatedly. It could be anything from “What are you doing today?” to “Do you want to buy a house together?” But it’s usually a friendly attempt on my part to coordinate plans, goals and dreams. The person will respond agreeably, then after a while, will stop responding. Then when confronted, will make up a story, and the previous conversation dead ends. Or, when asked a simple yes or no question, would not answer, and then again make up a story about not getting the text or some other excuse.
It’s clearly meant to avoid a certain type of discussion. There might be a miscommunication or misunderstanding about coordination of plans vs. having time (two separate issues in my mind).
The other thing some do is becoming silent to send a message of displeasure rather than just stating what the problem is, putting the other person in the position of having to read your mind.
This irritating behavior can be frustrating. Are they arrogantly neglecting our need to communicate? …or maybe they haven’t said the simple truth throughout their entire life?
“Many cultures don’t have the same black and white standard of Americans,” advised Ashley Jones, who has been in a cross cultural marriage for the last eight years and enjoys hosting foreign exchange students in her home.
“You want to have a yes/no black/white conversation which is very American style. I know I have come to a place where I get more direct when I need a definite answer from my students.
I guess those cultures have much looser definition of lying. I don’t think it is a lie specifically to deceive with malice but more of saving face or not wanting to disappoint. I think when dealing cross culturally, we have to give grace and adjust our expectations.”
Not only is there an East-West conflict about communication styles, but in both cultures men often engage in attempts at female appeasement to avoid upsetting her rather than just discussing the situation as they would do with a male friend. Maybe some of this weird communication style has to do with sexism. Some men don’t view women as someone you coordinate together with; it can be more about mutually pleasing each other rather than working together as a team. Women can be loved deeply but are not always part of decisions.
Some cultures, due to political oppression, may also have an exaggerated fear of being accused, resulting in overreaction. If you are sensitive to being interrogated by the police, you might overreact to your wife asking for attention. Even a normal question like “Are you home?” might make a man feel obligated to do whatever she wants or she will be upset.
“To a large degree, I have noticed this phenomenon in East Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. This is a desire, both for the sake of courtesy and avoidance of conflict. To put it mildly, it can be frustrating when one is engaged in negotiation or evenly simply trying to plan social events. Obviously, cultural programming, of ANY variety, is a tricky issue to deal with, particularly when it has been absorbed into spiritual and religious practice,” Christian Zedd told TMO. His parents worked in Iran from 1974-1978 when he was aged 12-16. “Truth be told, we ALL carry our upbringing’s cultural inheritance with us. About the best we can do, corny as it sounds, is call them as we see them and play the cards as they’re dealt, recognizing that we don’t all have the same cards.
Basically, the closer the relationship, the more important it is to clarify the terms and values. One can work or chat with just about anyone on the planet. For something like marriage or a business partnership, there had better be virtual identity of values and focus. That would boil down to one’s faith and the role of faith in one’s life.”
“Why do Lovers Lie?” on truthaboutdeception.com states: “When interdependence is high, telling the truth is important. Telling the truth allows people to coordinate their actions, create intimacy and closeness. But, interdependence also makes deception more likely. Because partners expect and demand a lot from us, telling the truth carries more risk.
“Telling the truth in a close relationship can lead to increased conflict, negativity and it can restrain one’s goals (i.e., “you can’t do that”). As it stands, both telling the truth and deception are needed to make a relationship work. Intimacy requires honesty, but complete honesty tears couples apart. Finding the right balance, can be difficult for many couples to do.”
Editor’s note: Karin Friedemann’s views are her own.