How to Resist the Temptation to
Lie and Cheat Your Way to the Top

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I’ve been duped.

A few weeks ago, I bought Jonah Lehrer’s new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, after hearing rave reviews from several friends and respected bloggers.

Imagine was an easy book to love.

Jonah Lehrer has a wonderfully engaging writing style, and I enjoyed his anecdotes, examples, and advice on how to use the “science of creativity” to cultivate more creative and inspired work.

The book made me feel inspired and hopeful about the future. As Lehrer wove stories about Bob Dylan’s songwriting together with tales about the invention of Scotch Tape, I discovered many ways that I could use his advice to get better (and more original) ideas.

And what writer doesn’t want better ideas?

Because I had enjoyed the book so much — and received so much value from it — I was devastated when the news broke that Lehrer admitted he’s a liar. Turns out that he had fabricated many of the Bob Dylan quotes in his manuscript, and when another writer challenged Lehrer to name his source, he panicked and lied again.

Turns out, there was no valid source — Lehrer completely made up at least one of the quotes in the Dylan section of the book, and spliced together other quotations (many of them out of context) so they supported the thesis of his book.

When the truth came out, Jonah Lehrer resigned from his prestigious post at The New Yorker and his publisher recalled his book.

And the 200,000 people who had purchased Imagine — including yours truly — are now left to deal with our own disappointment and frustration.

A growing trend?

Cases of writers who lie and fabricate sources are now frighteningly common.

Washington Post writer Janet Cooke won (and eventually returned) a Pulitzer Prize for a fraudulent story she wrote in 1980 about an 8-year-old heroin addict.

James Frey was unable to sell his writing as fiction, so he repackaged his story as a memoir. Most of his story was true, but there were sections of the book that were highly overstated, supposedly to increase drama and excitement. When Oprah Winfrey — who had helped Frey sell millions of books by naming his memoir as one of her Book-of-the-Month recommendations — found out he had fabricated some parts of his manuscript, she publicly (and by some reports, aggressively) confronted him on her talk show.

Then there’s the shocking story of Stephen Glass, who perpetrated one of the biggest and longest-running frauds in the history of journalism. In the late 1990’s, Glass cooked up at least 27 pieces for The New Republic that were based on fabricated quotes, sources and events. Some say Glass’s transgressions were a symptom of his almost pathological need to be personally liked and professionally respected by his peers and mentors.

Jonah Lehrer is only the most recent story of a long line of journalists and writers who lost their way.

And every time another story like this comes to light, I feel personally wounded.

I’m a trusting person. I have enormous faith in not only the ethics of authors and writers, but also the fact-checking process at magazines and publishing houses.

And that is why every time this happens — every time an author that I respect has a very public fall from grace, I feel disappointed and confused.

But when cases like these are such a common occurrence, why do I feel surprised and baffled every time another writer gets caught for lying and cheating?

Why we feel pressured to lie

Everywhere we look, we see supposed evidence that bigger is better and more exciting is best.

No corner of society seems immune — we see deceit from athletes who dope up before big competitions, from supermodels who starve themselves into impossibly thin bodies, and from Wall Street moguls who run Ponzi schemes to achieve unsustainable returns for their clients.

We are all trying to keep up with Joneses, but it turns out the Joneses are cutting corners, cooking the books, and making up quotes from Bob Dylan in order to get ahead.

As marketers and writers, we feel constant pressure to overhype and embellish. We feel a subtle-but-constant need to overstate our traffic numbers and exaggerate about the success of our online businesses.

We feel financial and personal pressure from our spouses, our peers, and our competitors to bring in more revenue, have six-figure launches, and quit our day jobs to become professional bloggers.

We often go to bed thinking of ways to grow our businesses so we can have better, richer and fuller lives, and at every turn, we get hit with marketing messages from questionable online marketers who flaunt photos of their sailboats and mansions. These marketers talk about how their get-rich quick schemes helped them build online businesses that made them a million dollars working three hours a week.

Many online marketers also live with the constant fear that if they slow down — if they publish once a week instead of every day, or if they get off the treadmill of ambition and overhype for a little too long — they’ll be left behind, and will never be successful.

One of the major fears is that those who can (supposedly) handle the intense and constant pressure will leave us in the dust. Those competitors who can continually function on three hours of sleep a night, keep up with a manic pace, and reach impossible standards in pursuit of the next big book deal or hugely successful product launch.

How our inner voice gets drowned out

I think the real reason that people have trouble resisting the pressure to achieve at any cost is that they lose their connection with their internal compasses — the little voices in their heads that tell them that lying is wrong. The angels on their shoulders who remind them that cheating to get ahead will actually hurt them (and the people they really want to connect with).

And when we lose touch with that voice — whether it’s from exhaustion, blind ambition, or a desperate desire to be loved and admired — we have a hard time seeing the right path.

Rebecca Self, PhD, a corporate leadership trainer and consultant who has taught media ethics to students and professional worldwide, observed:

Each of us has a moral center, a true north, a compass to guide us. Under normal conditions, we feel when ethical lines are being crossed. They’re different for each of us, but we know they’re there. The real challenges arise when we get off track, away from our own guiding principles. That’s when we don’t notice the transgressions around us, when we overstep, when we make terrible, sometimes even tragic, errors in judgment. 

People are so busy, worried, and pressured these days that it’s easier to lose track of who we are and what’s important, easier to act out of necessity or desperation. That’s when otherwise good or normal people make bad decisions.

I would love to say that when one makes bad decisions — when one lies and cheats and hypes oneself to the hilt — that one’s transgressions will always come to light. I’d love to say that in all cases, the truth will win out.

But I don’t think that’s actually true. I know there are authors, reporters, athletes, executives, and online marketers who have lied and haven’t been caught.

But here’s what I do know — lies make us miserable and ruin our relationships. In his brilliant e-book, Lying, author Sam Harris says:

Lies comes at a steep psychological cost … Unlike statements of fact, which require no further work out our part, lies must be continually protected from collisions with reality. When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of.

Harris also says that on top of the regret and shame that come with lying, continual deception — even when the lies are small — causes people to distrust us. And trust, once lost, is difficult (if not impossible) to regain.

This is especially true in content marketing, when our authentic connection with our audience is often the most important business asset we have.

How to tune in to our inner compass in the face of incredible pressure

So what practices can one put in place to make sure one doesn’t lose touch with one’s own conscience? What can one do to slow down and remember that there are things that human beings should never do (and things one should always strive to do, even in the worst of circumstances?)

There is some evidence that humans are trying to move more slowly, that some of us are attempting to step out of the rat race of constant competition and hype. There are movements that encourage living simply, clearing our physical and emotional spaces, and savoring our meals with friends as well as making real connections. There are steps we can take to move more slowly and allow ourselves time to connect with our inner compasses.

I think we can also reconnect with our best selves when we take care of our bodies and minds. I think we can try to eat good food, get a little exercise, and try to get more sleep.

I also believe that human interaction can help. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak (nicknamed “Dr. Love”) recommends consciously raising our oxytocin levels in an effort to make us a happier, more socially responsible society. His recipe for doing that? “Dr. Love” prescribes eight hugs a day for each and every one of us.

That’s right. More hugging.

And as much as I love watching the Olympics right now, I can’t help but think that we can all clear a little more brain space for our internal Jiminy Cricket if we turn off our televisions and burn every fashion and self-help magazine in our homes.

This is a problem we can work together to solve

I truly believe that if we start thinking of these problems as ones we can fix — whether it’s with eight hugs a day or trying to get more sleep — that maybe the Jonah Lehrer situations in the world will happen a little less often.

And maybe — just maybe — we can all get a little bit closer to center again, one blog post, one article, one book at a time.

Since I don’t have the answers to this question, I want to hear from you — what can we do to step back from the madness and reconnect with our inner compasses?

What are your practices for making time to listen to your inner voice of reason and truth?

About the Author: Beth Hayden is an author, speaker, and social media expert who specializes in Pinterest marketing. To find out how to get more traffic to your website or blog using Pinterest, grab your free copy of Beth’s e-book, The Definitive Guide to Driving Traffic with Pinterest.

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Comments

  1. Hi Beth,

    Here’s a way to make a lot of money: tell the truth. Integrity is a prospering quality, so prospering that owning the quality can make you a fortune. When people know, like and trust you, they buy from you, or join your team. Easy. Simple. Powerful. Awesome advice here.

    Feel pressured? Slow down. Calm down. Doing things while feeling confined, or crushed, or pressured, almost always leads to a low energy outcome, because force negates. The only reason you LIE is because you FEAR. Fear losing a sale, fear the competition, fear anything.

    Slow down. Calm down. Face, embrace and release the fear…leaving faith. With faith in yourself, your abilities and your venture, you no longer feel pressurized…impossible for positive and negative emotions to reside in your mind simultaneous. As the pressure disappears you simply act from a high energy place and tell the truth, and you prosper..and you certainly don’t wind up in compromising positions.

    Thanks Beth!

    Ryan

    • Well said, Ryan! I couldn’t agree more. :)

    • Great comment, Ryan, thank you.

    • Yes being truthful and trustworthy is what everyone needs to be. You may be a blogger, an author, a businessman, an employee or whatever your work is and you should never forget to be true to yourself and to the people around you.

      If you say facts about your business and you’re saying the truth then people will know it eventually. It will come out without any effort at all. But if you fabricate facts then you need to make a lot of effort to make it appear as the truth.

    • Ryan this is a great point. I think that this can be applied to all areas of life where we want to succeed. Sometimes you have to play the long game using nothing but your own hard work and hustle to reach your goal but when you do, the feeling of achievement will be so much greater.

      You never have to worry about someone unravelling your webs of lies this way.

  2. I think we have to remember that “winning” isn’t everything-integrity means something to us as individuals.

    Lies are hard to keep up and I think in the very long run the truth comes out.

    • I agree, Celia – and I think deep down the writers who are losing their way DO have integrity. I think they just become too frantic, crazed and exhausted to be able to remember what their values are, and they start making really bad decisions.

  3. Do you think that it is, perhaps, our love of social networking and the internet that makes it easier to exaggerate and lie? Do you think that when we are not looking someone in the eye as we speak that it is easier to leave something out or to just embellish the story that we are forgetting how to connect with people in reality to see what harm is happening when the lies take over?
    Perhaps we just need to start connecting in reality, and with reality, once more and those 8 hugs a day could then just happen!!!!!

    • I don’t know if socializing online makes it easier to lie (I’m sure some bright social scientist is doing experiments on that now), but I know for sure that it makes it a lot easier to get caught.

    • Jules, I also think that the frantic nature of social media contributes to the pressure to succeed that we feel. The Internet certainly makes it harder to get some stillness in our lives, and that makes us feel frazzled and off center.

  4. Embrace that there is a YOU and search for or build YOUR good character. These things are addressed in that favorite book about the 7 habits. Having character and lovin’ it develops all the facets of good or bad character… ethics, transparency, authenticity. If you’re going to be a liar, know that going in…then you will a good fictioneer and not a dirty, rotten con liar.

  5. I heard about Jonah Lehrer admitting he was a liar. Sorry, but I’m not surprised. I am surprised that Jonah’s the only one receiving backlash. What about his literary agent, editor and publisher? Aren’t they supposed to check the facts? Why is Jonah the only one being ‘dragged through the mud’ for his action?

    “What are your practices for making time to listen to your inner voice of reason and truth?”

    I have my 16-year-old nephew and 19-year-old niece living with me. I’m smart enough to know that kids watch a parent’s or guardian’s every move and will do as they do. If I lie and cheat and think it is okay, they’ll learn that it’s acceptable behavior. The bottom line is that I like to lead by example.

    Getting caught up

    It amazes me how people get caught up in being famous today. Let’s face it; once you die, your spirit will leave this earthly plane. Is it worth it to lie and cheat while living on planet earth? I don’t think so. Stop taking life so seriously and be the best you can be. If you slow down and breathe, you’ll get to where you’re meant to be. Many metaphysical/spiritual teachers believe the following, “that which is yours (your destiny) can’t be taken away from you.” I think people need to get over competition which stems from the fear that there isn’t enough for everyone (lack based mentality). There is plenty for everyone. Also, quit comparing yourself to others. That’s another fear based ‘thing’ to do.

    Great post for a Monday! I enjoy reading posts that make me think. :)

    • Thanks for your comment, Amandah – I’m curious why you weren’t surprised. Does this stuff just not shock you anymore, or was it something about Jonah Lehrer in particular that made you think he was prone to this?

      And yes, I agree that his publisher and editor need to take some of the blame as well (for a failure of fact-checking) but I do think the responsibility is still primarily Lehrer’s.

    • Personally, I wasn’t surprised with that either. Still, it’s sad to see something like that happen.

      Whoever’s supposed to “check the facts” depends on whatever arrangements those people made among one another, I guess. But yeah, it still boils down to the writer not having to do that in the first place.

      Also wanted to say thanks for writing this, Beth. I hope others reading this bookmark this as well!

    • Amandah, from what I can tell, in these days of shrinking margins and disintermediation, publishers tend to rely on the authors and don’t normally do much fact checking. For a controversial political insider book, maybe. For a popular science book, probably not much. In fact, Lehrer’s reputation was great – respected columnist, past best-sellers, etc. And the guy writes well, as Beth pointed out. There would be no reason to suspect that with all of the research Lehrer accurately described he’d slide a few whoppers in there. Very sad, I really liked his neuroscience stuff – he had a gift for turning ponderous research into engaging prose.

  6. I think creative people sometimes have a blurred line between reality and fantasy – as a child I surely did. I grew up in an era of harsh realities and learned to be a scrupulous as possible in regard to the truth because I a lazy person and it’s so much less work if you just begin with the truth. But because I frequently took the gut-reaction easy way out I do understand how folks accidentally dig themselves into a hole! I think it must take a great deal of courage to admit you were lying, and face up to the hurt, anger and disdain which is sure to follow. I’ve seen people who were backed into a corner, faced with the truth still defiantly maintaining their lie, so the fact he came clean is a positive for him.

    Great article, and good advice for us all!

  7. Lying as a writer or marketer means that you have no trust in your audience or market.

    No, that’s not accurate. It means you hate your audience. You feel as if they won’t give you their time and attention unless you make stuff up.

    Curing a lying heart is simple. Love your readers enough to tell them the trust. And trust them enough to respond to what’s real.

    • Hashim – I actually look at this slightly differently…I think people want approval from their audiences so badly that they’re willing to go against their own eternal ethics to get that approval. But of course, the truth comes out in most cases (or makes you miserable in the meantime) and then they are worse off than when they started!

  8. Lying in this day and age is probably not more pervasive than other ages, but they make a bigger splash these days because of the consequences, and because lies are caught and then affect more people (thanks to the internet and the world becoming smaller and tighter). I believe a person always has to be true to herself to feel good. Lying, and then living with those potential consequences, must make a soul feel squished and sad all the time, as seductive as that lie may be. I recommend yoga and meditation (to see inside yourself always, and to help you be true), good friends who help you always remain true to yourself, and exerise (another way of trusting your body, your self).

    • “Lying makes a soul feel squished and sad.” – I completely agree, Pamela. Well said. I read Buzz Bissinger’s piece on the Stephen Glass situation in order to research this article, and my heart really went out to Glass (even though I was angry at him at the same time.) I think he was probably going through total agony when he was trying to maintain that many lies at one time. Granted, the agony was of his own doing, so there are limits to my sympathy, but it really must have been awful.

  9. In the Year of the Dragon, honesty burns off deceit. Don’t be dismayed — in the end, we’re all stronger for knowing the truth.

  10. I can imagine that people do this out of desperation to be seen and heard. Or perhaps, they just think it’s a nifty short-cut to the top. Unfortunately, anything based on a lie is going to crumble eventually. In order for us to truly be rooted in our purpose (what we came here to do) we need to get real about who we are and align with our integrity. Not an easy task but, without it, you are just a shadow of what you could be. I have been struggling with that old humdinger ‘Who am I?’ and wrote a piece about it, here is the link for those who are interested in taking that plunge into the inner depths of self: http://www.lightworkersworld.com/2012/07/dare-to-be-who-you-are/

  11. When the truth regarding James Frey’s “memoir” came forward, I was hurt. I had fallen in love with the story and how it impacted me personally. Then I read it again knowing the full truth and loved it all the same. I’m not saying it is acceptable for professionals to lie and cheat their way to the top, but as the consumer we have a choice to be inspired on truths or half-truths. You could still be inspired by Imagine as I am still inspired by Mr. Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. I continued to buy his books. Yes, he lied to the public that supported him, but I selfishly forgave him because his stories captivate me darn it.

    We have choices as professionals and choices as consumers…it simply boils down to making conscious, thoughtful decisions one dilemma at a time.

    Thanks for the intriguing post, really enjoyed it.

    • This is a really good point. I had a debate with a friend while writing this post about whether I can still get valuable stuff from Lehrer’s book, and be inspired by it. I think there’s a lot of great stuff in there, and it is unfortunate that I’m writing off the entire book because of fabricated Dylan quotes, But it’s tough for me.

      Right now I’m being pretty unforgiving about it, but I completely agree that every consumer makes their own choices about this type of thing – and that we need to make our decisions on a case-by-case basis. Thanks for bringing up this point.

      • You may not have to write off the entire book, though. Maybe see what lessons make sense to you, then apply what you can.

        On the side, I just read Oprah’s interview with James Frey after that “incident” years ago. Good to see they made peace, and (hopefully) Mr. Frey won’t have to do that stunt again.

  12. I don’t lie in my writing and I always keep it real because I realize that the audience that I’ve been working passionately for months to build up can go away quickly if I were to start writing lies because lies are really hard to maintain while reality is simply reality.

  13. It’s incredibly sad that a writer like Jonah Lehrer felt the need to lie. From your description of his book the content and style was good and inspired you. Would it have been any worse if he hadn’t been quoting Bob Dylan? I very much doubt it.

    Honesty and integrity often come at a price but also give great satidfaction and allow you to look at your self in the mirror.

    Thank you for this article Beth Hayden, very thought provoking.

    • Kelvin – yes, the fact that his book was so inspiring and valuable was what made this situation so hard for me. It’s a shame that other people aren’t going to get the great benefits out of the book.

      And no, I don’t think the book would’ve been worse without the Dylan quotes. He used the Dylan section of the book quite a bit to do his marketing, because it was sort of a sexy story. But (assuming the story itself was actually true) I would’ve have cared if he used those quotes, or not. I don’t think the text would have suffered for it.

    • I really thought the book was terrific, and it would have been terrific without the made-up quotes. Such a shame. Fine writer with something really useful to say.

  14. Thanks, Beth, for a great post. I think we’d all do well to meditate daily (something I’m striving to do, hard as it is), significantly limit the amount of time we spend reading emails and Facebook and Twitter feeds et al, and take a good walk every day. That, plus my personal observance of the Sabbath each week, helps me stay clear and focused.

    We’re all feeling so pressured to compete and succeed, with success defined in terms of earnings and material worth and one-upping the competition. Nothing new. Here’s a very apt quote by Thoreau, from his essay “Living Without Principle”–just substitute “Internet” for “locomotive”:

    “This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! I am awaked almost every night by the panting of the locomotive. It interrupts my dreams. There is no sabbath. It would be glorious to see mankind at leisure for once. It is nothing but work, work, work.”

    Thoreau, of course, found solace and great inspiration from long walks in the woods. Ironically, even though Lehrer’s book is now discredited, he writes about the very same phenomenon–how important it is to slow down, daydream, make space for creative thought to form. Same holds true for living an honest life. We all need to get off the treadmill and pause in order to hear that still, small, ethical voice and keep our bearings.

  15. If your first decision is wrong, every decision that follows is a compromise.

  16. Thank you for this reminder about integrity and the importance of living what we write. As someone who is having a first go at sharing content in the blogosphere, this is a really important read.

  17. Let’s all get something out in the open: people lie. Delusion is a monster, and you have to fight it every day. To be a creative, you have to dance on a razors edge between fantasy and reality.
    Sometimes, you get mixed up. Sometimes you want something to be true so badly that some unreality slips out.
    And then the world punishes you. “LIar,” they say. There is no grace for this, there is no retreat.
    The consequences of being ‘caught lying’ are so severe. We can’t say “Woah! Looks like I overstated something, my bad, let me correct it and get back to you,” to a mob with pitchforks.

    People. Lie. Even well intentioned ones. Probably even you.
    What we need to do is offer grace, offer a way out so we don’t have a society that papers new lies over old ones.

    • I’d love to argue here that little white lies, especially those told to protect someone else’s feelings, are somehow less harmful than the type of fabrication I’m talking about in this piece. But you’re right – lying is lying. And we’re all guilty of it. But I don’t think the answer is to give writers a free pass, either. Mobs with pitchforks are bad, but so is the “Well, everyone is doing it, we’ll let it slide” attitude I’ve been seeing lately. Maybe some middle ground?

  18. Credibility is the cornerstone of sustainable business. Lying via social media will get one caught out sooner than later. This post highlights this point rather eloquently, thank you for sharing Rebecca.

  19. Your post today was thought provoking. Really – it stopped me from going onto the next task and led me to my notepad to think about what you said. So, here is my take on your post.

    I emphasize with your position but I think as our numbers grow we must change.
    I want and seek the truth but I don’t want to hear every step of someone’s journey to find it.
    I accept that by looking for shortcuts people need to condense the story.
    I also accept the fact that I seek entertainment or I will move on to the next story.
    So it doesn’t surprise me to learn that to keep my attention someone has embellished the story to entertain me and taken shortcuts with the story to get to the point.

    And isn’t that, from someone’s perspective, a lie? So, as I seek to absorb the information from the cacophony of voices in my cyberspace world I accept the lies. The result? A belief that everything is entertainment and when the truth matters to me I have to stop and do the work myself to verify the facts.

    Maybe it’s sad, but I don’t think being forced to slow down when approaching things that really matter is a bad thing. I do it at crossroads. Now I even fight my desire to push empty strollers in front of speeders who race through crossroads without checking to see if someone is crossing.

    And maybe that is world we live in now – We live for entertainment, believe in very little, and need to settle down and examine the facts when we stumble upon something that actually matters to us. Is’t it a world of “Trust but verify” with a caveat of “about things that matter to you” ?

    • David – I’m glad you found the post useful. Thanks for your comment. I do have to disagree with you, though. I don’t look at everything I read as strictly for entertainment. And I believe (and have faith in) lots of things. And call me naive, but I don’t think I should have to verify every quote in every book I read – I do still feel like that responsibility is on the author to tell the truth, and on the publishers to fact-check and hold the author accountable.

      I don’t believe we should give other people permission to take shortcuts to to the top. When people fabricate and embellish to the extreme, they should be held accountable – but we should also learn from them. That’s why I wrote this post – to try to hold all of us to a higher standard.

  20. The lies will not work. The insecurity attached to knowing you are fake is stressful. People lie constantly. That is the truth. I have told a few myself. I am guilty. Now. I never lie. I do not say anything or write anything I cannot stand by 100%.

    I have bought a few books recently that have been hyped. to death by the digital marketing fraternity. I am pissed off. I feel like I have been robbed. None of this is helpful. I will never buy from those authors again. They have sh*t on my trust.

    In the end. Trust and integrity is all you have to say you live a life of purpose and meaning. Who wants to be the sad old guy/gall with money in the bank and no respect or love left.

    It is sad. Stop lying. Get a life and work at your craft. It feels good trust me.

  21. Hi Beth,

    I’m not surprised for two reasons…

    1) Jonah is human and isn’t perfect. We all make mistakes. However, Jonah’s mistake was blasted all over media outlets much like celebrities who get divorced, go to rehab, get caught for DUI, etc. In a strange way, the publicity will probably help his career. I’m sure he’ll bounce back; he’ll be wiser for it.

    2) No, this stuff doesn’t shock me anymore. Sometimes, people become blinded by their success that they want more and more of it, no matter what. A little ‘grounding’ or communing with Mother Nature will bring people back to earth.

  22. Hi

    This is the first time I have commented on a copyblogger post but, this one, I felt deserved something back.

    We see too much these days the wild claims, the earn silly money with no effort, and, we really know it can’t be true, but the cleaver way in which they are written draws us in, at least, some of us.

    I am in an MLM business, and it is true the earning potential is huge, and every one could do well.

    However, not all will. We know that, but still many insist all will do well.

    Many hit a huge payout one month, and then show that to everyone, for years after.

    Is that a lie? Why not show LAST month’s cheque?

    The truth is with so much competition out there we feel we have to show the max.

    Our company have a car programme
    With Jags,.BMW’s and Mercedes, and that is just the start, and also a holiday programme, where a couple would have about £10,000 spent on them, for about an 8 day trip!

    Yet, in a meeting we were asked how many joined because of the cars and holidays, and it was less than 5%

    In fact, something like 80% joined JUST to earn a few hundred a month, to top up wages.

    So if the reality is that the big money and big rewards are not what draws people in, why do we over hype everything?

    Recently a network, let’s call it has come out, and they offer 100% commissions. Not up to, but 100% On all……

    So i asked a friend in it, so who pays for the servers?

    It turns out that you get 100% on the ones you get to keep, but 2 or 3 out of every 10 get passed up….

    But you don’t see then pointing that fact out…. And to me an omission is just as bad as a lie…..

    They may have a great system, but if they said commission averages out to 70% – 80% that would still look pretty good, and would not have been hiding the fact that, at some point, you can’t be in a system and keep all the cash – some has to go into the system, to keep it running….

  23. Lying or what I like to call trying to game the system ( see my blog post last week on that topic : http://onewomanseye.blogspot.com/2012/08/gaming-system.html ) is not limited to the world of writing.

    It seems more pervasive than ever for several reasons. The first is the big rush to be the one to get to the finish line first. The second is the big rush to be the one who reports on the “news” first and forgets to vet the story. And last but not least, it’s easier to get caught then ever before because we have so much less privacy in a 24/7 on-line world.
    In the end, the odds are you will get caught. If not sooner, then later.

  24. Hey Beth,
    This is a wonderful article. I would say to not beat yourself up too much, as all of us are duped at one time or another. And yes, I believe this can be prevelant behavior as internal and external success are different things to different folks. For me, true success entails being the best husband and father I can be, be a good, supportive friend, and also be a carrier of the torch for the principles I was taught by the immigrant members of my family. When monetary or material success is secondary, the urge to lie or deceive is non-existant.

  25. Russell Lundstrom :

    There is no such thing as an inconsequential lie.

  26. Great topic Beth! I remember the ignominious James Frey confession about ” A Million Little Pieces…”
    Legendary trial attorney Gerry Spence once said, “We must tell the whole truth, or half-truths become whole lies…”

  27. Beth, I think the reason people do this is that, in essence, they’ve either lost, or never found, their authentic voice. I’m currently reading Steven Covey’s “the 8th Habbit”, which talks about this very thing. What folks who do this fail to realize is that there are natural/spiritual laws in place, such that when one performs actions that go against them, there are consequences. For 1 thing, conscience becomes callused, very much like when one first learns to play the guitar–at first, pressing down on the strings hurts, but, over time, calluses form, & it’s no longer painful. I think when people lie & cheat, at first, it’s painful–if they continue, after awhile, it becomes a practice, & conscience, long since anesthetized, doesn’t even so much as stir. But, whether found out or not, these people are likely always looking back over their shoulder in fear, & always dealing with that niggling voice inside that accuses them of living a lie & being a fraud. That can’t be pleasant.

    There’s always that space between stimulus & response, where humans make the choice to do right or wrong. Basing one’s life on principles of love, kindness, fairness, integrity, & respect help enlarge that space, making it easier to do the right thing. Life lived in opposition to these principles conversely shrinks it, making the wrong thing easier & easier to do.

    I also think that people who do this fail to see that life is a series of choices. One can choose the road of competition, ambition, & getting ahead at all cost–& many there are who travel it. Or one can choose the road of love, cooperation, & respecting others, & few there are that find it, or so it seems.

  28. Beth, I feel your pain as I’m also a very trusting person – sometimes to my own detriment. I like how’ve you explained with all that life demands now, people can loose their inner voice. I’ve rarely considered that as it seems so many people use unethical acts to just get ahead. Thanks for that new perspective. I consider myself a highly ethical professional, so I’ve always kept a pledge or copy of a professional code of ethics pinned in my office. Looking at those promises, those values, everyday has helped me to remember what and who I’m working for and why.

  29. I was with you ’till you started slamming self help magazines. I have spent the last year working on an honest self help book that I hope could possible guide someone out of despair towards their own personal path to a better and happier life.

    • Donna – you’re right, I probably shouldn’t get down on all self-help stuff. There are some really helpful resources for people out there. It’s just the magazines and books that make us feel like we are one perpetual, never-ending project that get me down. I just want people to be able to relax a little and be okay with who they are, instead of feeling the constant pressure to improve or change themselves.

  30. Great post, loved it. It is very hard in this increasingly “competitive” world to not be drawn into the “rat race” and steal what ever edge you can get.

    I have lost many a business deal because I wont compromise my own personal values or the ethics with which I conduct my business.

    Honesty, being “trustworthy” and giving real value will get you there in the end.

    No matter how hard it is……..You compromise your values, not only do you betray yourself. You let down all those who “trusted” you.

    I do “understand” how people can get “lost”.

    The pressure to succeed and be successful is enormous.

  31. Beth. Thanks for saving my career. I’m sorry, that’s an exaggeration. Come to think of it, I believe a lot of this stretching of the truth is showing up everywhere. Even in our text books. Have you read “Lies My Teacher Told Me?” And don’t get me started on Obama and Romney TV spots.

    Fact is, I was just about to launch a new blog with the first post dedicated to a review of a fascinating new book I just read cover to cover in record time. Jonah Lehrer and How Creativity Works. And the worse part about it? I actually thought someone had figured it out.

    Keep up the good work, Beth.
    Lee Gillette
    Soon to be Gillette on the Net.
    And that’s no lie.

    • Hi Lee – I give credit to Brian Clark for filling me in on the breaking scandal so I didn’t embarrass myself in a similar fashion! We’re here to help. :)

  32. Virtue is ‘the good a person ought to do’. There are four cardinal (Latin for hinge) virtues that unite humanity and allow us to interact together with a common set of moral beliefs. They are prudence (making a good decision), justice (giving every man his due), courage, and temperance (denying oneself). The virtues have been studied and discussed for over 3,000 years by most of the greatest minds in the world and the wealth of information is breathtaking. Recently, we abandoned the virtues for ethics which is worse than just starting over. Ethics are not intrinsically bad, just not universal. As a people, we no longer agree about what is right and wrong and instead we’re told to follow our own moral compass, to follow our own guiding principles, to decide for ourselves how to treat one another. That’s just bad advice. We would never tell cops or teachers or judges or the military or parents or the new guy just hired in the office to follow this advise. It’s confusing and not helpful, especially with young people. I’m not advocating that we return to the virtues. Besides, I don’t think it would ever happen and would probably be more difficult then trying to re-instate the military draft (which I don’t think we should).

    No doubt the guy was wrong for lying. That’s not so tough to figure out. However, there are some tough ones out there that would be a lot easier to figure out and wouldn’t damage so many lives if we all had some common ground to guide us to make better decisions.

    By the way, if you’ve ever heard of faith, hope, and charity, those are the three supernatural virtues and they unite us to God. Cardinal virtues unite us to man and one another, theological or supernatural to God. Pretty cool…very cool stuff…

  33. This is scary. I think way too many new writers and marketers (and apparently some experienced ones too) could easily fall into this trap. I have rough days, but have never felt the need to inflate facts to make myself or my colleague look better. When the hard times come, I hold fast to the knowledge I’ve gained here and elsewhere and follow it to the letter. Sooner or later, the tides always turn if you keep doing the things you know will work. When you give people the information they want in a form that is easy for them to digest, you will ALWAYS make a profit in the long run. You just gotta be willing to weather the ups and downs in the short run. :)

  34. I Loved this and the timing is particularly great from my point of view as I (a Kiwi from New Zealand) awoke to the news this morning that our Olympic Champion shot-putter Valerie Adams was awarded Gold over Silver when I turned out the woman who was awarded gold a few days ago turns out to have been taking drugs.

    While NZ celebrates with Valerie Adams over this today, the Belarussians are dealing with one of their goldies being shamed as a cheat. This highlights the fact that when anyone does cheat or lie, the repercussions can be far more widespread than the obvious close fall out – what about the more far reaching ripples?

    This comes down to integrity, but also values. I’m currently coaching an inspirational author and speaker Jo Simpson who is best known in the UK for her work helping restless executives reconnect with their values as their guiding inner light to making integrity based decisions. Values are the core of who we are, and recognizing and then honoring our values of honesty and truthfulness means there is no room for dishonesty.

    Simple really!

    It seems that honesty and truthfulness are often thought of as ‘a given’ in the values debate, and therefore brushed over when companies are posting what their values are in their marketing collateral, but this may also mean that we don’t actually think about them and acknowledge them as being important enough to honor. This is a simple change worth making.

    Thanks for writing this article.

    Maria Carlton

    • I agree, Maria – and I think we don’t spend much time in our adult lives thinking about what our values are. When I spoke with Dr. Self for this article, she told me that she used to assign an end-of-year “Personal Code of Ethics” project for her Media Ethics students. I *love* that idea. Thinking about writing one, myself. I can imagine that it really help share some day-to-day decisions.

  35. One of my kids when young (fortunately only during a phase of that child’s life) would qualify lies: big fat, white, fib, non-truth. I wonder how many adults do that and justify the differences?

    Excellent post, Beth.

  36. The irony is truth is stranger than fiction — and it’s worth seeking.

    Conceptual integrity hangs together, way better than any fabrications, especially if your game is to add a few layers on a house of cards.

  37. Not just lying, your comments can be directed at all forms of cheating. Take speeding, for example. Just as it is stressful have the possibility of being caught in a lie, it is stressful to be on the lookout for a police car.

  38. Dear Beth,

    I think one of the most central points in this issue is not just the readers feeling lied to, but the reaction of the people who are lied about.

    The pervasive trend of “lying” or “inventing” information is rearing its ugly head in the online writing world every day, but those instances go unnoticed. Even marketers who claim to not be those stereotypically bad online marketers steel from people in their community, and not just by getting an idea for an article from a discussion in an online forum and then expanding upon it.

    Just today, I found myself trying to figure out how to combat this issue when a very high profile travel blogging conference seems to have gone behind my back to include a panel that I envisioned, designed, and pitched in one of their conferences without even letting me know what was going on or why they were doing it. I find taking unabashed credit for something someone else did as one of the more common faces of the lying you are talking about.

    • I agree, Gabi – that is just another form of cheating. That stuff makes me crazy, too. Sorry that happened to you! I hope you let the conference organizers know it’s not okay!

  39. The most surprising thing in this post was not that writers and marketers lie, but that in this day of instant information and fact-checking by any eight-year old with a computer, anyone would think they could actually get away with it. Ideally, we should be driven intrinsically by values and ethics, but if we aren’t, then I would think the external pressure of knowing our work will be highly scrutinzied in this techno age would keep a writer on the straight and narrow. Sadly, though, the desire for fame and recognition can shut down the cautionary voice in our heads. There is a real irony here: we intentionally cultivate sucess by researching the latest trends, the latest content ideas, the latest whatever. We plan our marketing strategies with the precision of a military general. But we lack intentionality when it comes to protecting our creative self and making time for restoration that would keep our perspectives healthy. “Margin” by Richard A. Swenson, M.D, is a fantastic read on how we need to intentionally build margins, or cushions of downtime, in our world so we can function in a healthy way. We crowd our lives right up to the lines and leave no room for refueling. The amazing thing was this book was first published in 1995. We are so much more hyper-connected via social media that its message is even more relevant today. If we aren’t deliberate about taking care of ourselves, via hugs, enough sleep or adequte margins then our work suffers and we are tempted to take shortcuts which, in the end, only short-circuit our work and careers.

  40. What Jonah Lehrer did was definitely wrong and I won’t argue that, but you did mention that it was an easy book to love and that it inspired you. That’s what great writers do whether it be fiction or not. Writers today have become marketers and all marketers lie to some extent.

    Nobody knows the real authors except the people around them and I think if we did know the truth about every writer, we would probably be disappointed very often. I’m sure a lot was learned from reading the book and that’s the positive I would take from it.

    Great insight on why we feel pressured to lie. Cheers!

    • Do you really think all marketers lie? I don’t agree with you on that. I think we feel a ton of pressure to lie or embellish, but I don’t think everyone gives in to it. Just my two cents…

  41. Beth. Congratulations. This is a wonderful piece of putting the exact right words on paper.
    Hard not to get influenced by all the sleazy and moderately sleazy and maybe just a tiny bit sleazy marketing methods – but it’s a slippery slope. Better not start on it.

    Thanks for putting that straight!

  42. ooh, well said.
    thank you.

    My way:

    Blog everyday. From the beginning of this year, i dropped all my concepts and great idea’s. (The ones that i hoped would bring me succes and fullfilment)

    In stead i took the fullfilment part alone, and on an every day basis.

    Just open wordpress, click on the big + en write. Write what’s there. Write what’s underneath. Open, honest. Failures as well as succes.
    This worked so well for me, that now I’m beginning to see the ‘red-line’. I’m blogging stuff, that I couldn’t have thought of last year!. I’m even vlogging, overcoming my shyness, and liking it a lot.

    Now comes the difficult part: keeping the line. because I get nice reactions on my blog. I get more readers. They are pulling me: “write another one, like that last succesfull post!”

    I have to stay patient. Be my self. Write what’s there, and not what’s wanted.

    “Keeping-up-my-pleasure” I call it. I think I know, when I cross the line: too little pleasure, and too much ‘trying-hard’.

    the temptation is always there. Beware of the sharks (in me).

    So thanks, for reminding me, and for giving me another reason for keep going along this line. (despite the fact that I want succes right now, and not tommorrow)

  43. Interesting discussion here, and the breadth and passion of the responses highlight something positive:

    People everywhere value truthfulness and integrity over and above many other characteristics.

    But there’s no light without shade…

    So if you can position yourself and your services in a way that demonstrates your honesty – and therefore reliability and trustworthiness – you will attract business from plenty of like-minded clients who value what you have to offer (even if you’re not biggest, fastest, first or cheapest)…

    We all know every industry has its ‘bad eggs’… so be the good guy.

    Stand out through good practice and you’ll succeed in the long run while the fakers get busted.

  44. Truly one of the best things you’ve ever written (and you’ve written so many of my favorites….so that’s saying something).

    Thanks for the reminder that doing things the right way is more important than doing them the fast way.

    Reminds me of the The Mad Farmer Liberation Front poem by Wendell Berry :)

  45. Hi Beth! very interesting discussion going on here and as for me pressure can do everything and that’s what happend with Lehrer and its really shocking that some people are doing it just to get fame overnight without doing little hard work in their respective fields.

  46. Hi Beth,

    I really enjoyed this article and hadn’t realised lying was so prevalent among some successful authors. What always interests me is actually at the other end of the scale. There are a lot of VERY successful authors who are such by simply regurgitating content that has already been written and putting it into their own words.

    There are plenty of popular self-help type books that have become best-sellers that do this – the original concepts in ‘Think and Grow Rich’ for example have been re-used time and time again by many successful authors.

    And why not? this is the part I find interesting, as long as the authors cite their sources, then why not. People probably lie as you say to embellish/enhance their story, but there are so many good stories out there, coupled with anything you want to say or any new angle you want to put on something, the big question for me is why would you need to lie?

    As far as looking at my inner compass, I’m afraid I think that may be the wrong question (if you’ll pardon me for saying so) – I don’t think there is such a great temptation to “keep up with the Jones'” in that sense – or if there is, then the person is either not a good author or not a good person anyway. Either you’re honest, or you’re not – and I have to believe that most people when it matters are (honest).

    Thanks for a very interesting article Beth,
    take care & best wishes,
    Alan

  47. Great post Beth! I had Jonah’s book on my reading list and I know quite a few people who are good friends and admirers of Jonah. Not sure how I feel about this.

    As far as practices to help us return to our inner compass, I’m a big believer in yoga. The mindfulness and focus cultivated in a yoga practice really helps you take your mind off all those things that just aren’t that important. It’s nice to be able to disconnect sometimes, even if just for an hour. Plus, you reap physical benefits as well. Nothing beats an all in one body-mind workout. It’s saved my life and countless others’ from the overbearing stress of a go-get-em society.

  48. I think you struck a nerve. In any highly-competitive environment there is the tendency to cheat. And there is a tendency for the person not cheating–who sees everyone else doing it–to cheat so he can get/stay on top.

    This is true in sports, politics and business.

    We sacrifice short-term results for long-term failure. Lying and cheating smears our name. Ask anyone who has fallen from the top. We reach the top and feel immune to the laws that govern average people. On the other hand, we crave that success NOW–and want to do whatever it takes to get there. Temptation dangles out in front of us.

    Instead of fast and fragile we should pursue slow and steady. This way we can mature along the way and handle the success when it arrives.

    Nice post.

  49. Very timely. I just finished reading Ryan Holiday’s “Trust me I’m Lying” I will never look at the news blogs with the same respect again!

  50. I felt my heart being squeezed as I read this article. Never thought that people with big names and fame hugging their shadows can and do lie. I thought this human frailty is only resorted to by insignificant mortals like you and I.

    At any rate, I think lying is an inherent characteristic of man. In some, it is more pronounced while in others it hardly is felt. And I don’t buy the argument that that outside forces prompt people to lie. If one is predisposed to lying, pressure or no pressure, he/she will lie. Conversely, people who are not predisposed to lying would rather welcome death than lie.

  51. “Lead us not into temptation.”.. it is so easy to lie so that one gets ahead or famous.
    I am a new writer and this is my prayer.
    I do not mind taking long to get famous, but I do not want to find myself in some embarrassing situations. So my prayer will forever be….”lead me not into temptation!”

  52. Thank you for writing this post – it needed to be written.

    There is far too little emphasis on actually doing what’s morally right in online business and that needs to be addressed. Marketers need to realize that it is perfectly possible to do business, make nice profits and do it in a way that feel good and overwhelmingly helps people.

    I hope this can be the start of a more honest approach to Internet Marketing.

    Thanks again!

  53. In this world full of deceit, the best thing to do to stand out from the rest is to be in integrity and authenticity. It creates sustainability. Telling the truth is the easiest thing to do. It’s hard to tell lies, because we have to create more lies and must remember who we told it to.

  54. I agree with you that we need to slow down and tone down the hype. And I agree that we need to maintain our own integrity, not just for our own sake but for civilization’s. The more that writers fabricate, the more we start to lose trust in each other in all facets of life. And that leads to a society built on deception, a very dangerous path.

  55. Wow, great read Beth.

    I hadn’t heard about Jonah or his book. Part of me wants to make a joke (his title was called Imagine, so couldn’t he have just said he imagined that Dylan told him so), but as you know (from knowing me, personally) I’m big on ethical communications. I truly appreciate your putting this story together.

    Part of me is highly offended that another person, at the expense of others, could create such lies and put them out as truths. It seems like a lot of folks are getting caught only after effecting other peoples’ reputations (their agents, publishers, others who support them, you – if you encouraged others to read it before you knew…)

    I’m reminded of Ira Glass’s retraction of Mike Daisey (like Oprah, only after the fact did Ira find out about the wrongdoing): http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/460/retraction

    Ira accepted the blame for not doing more fact checking, but in this world of real-time communication, sometimes we forget to do our research. Or put it aside, because we thought we trusted the source.

    Your article offers lots of reminders, not only to always do things with integrity, but to always take the time to make sure our sources are being truthful. Though difficult to find the time, you remind us why it is important.

    Yet, I can’t help but hope your original insights from the book won’t be lost by the lies. Hard to separate, I know! But, we need to take inspiration where we find it or need to find it, even from difficulties. That is not to say you shouldn’t feel what you felt, betrayed or whatever, from the fact that someone lied. It is important to acknowledge those realities.

    I guess I’d just like to encourage you to take Dylan, for example. His music has inspired millions. It doesn’t matter to us whether they are autobiographical accounts or not, it is the impetus of an idea that we filter and use for creation.

    Again, please don’t get me wrong. You need to feel what you feel, but I do hope you find that you can also walk on with some of that original spark.

    Of course, one could say you were highly motivated in this post, because of the cycle: your initial reaction to the book combined with the disillusionment process later inspired an amazing article. Well Done!

    Focusing on the possibilities…
    Bethany

  56. My husband and I were just having a conversation about lying last night (inspired by a film we saw). I think all people lie. I don’t think it’s justified, (not in the least bit) but but we all have our shades of inauthenticity. Once a person gets that about themselves (and human nature) we have a greater capacity to observe the impact of that behavior and begin the daily search/battle for truth. I too have lied and cheated in my life. I’m not proud, but the fact that I can recognize that, own that, allows me to make a greater impact in the world and hopefully raise the flag in a compassionate way. I think we are all a bit guilty, we watch people around us lie to themselves and to us and we say nothing. We watch our politicians lie and we say nothing. We watch businesses lie and we say nothing. Until we are willing to hold ourselves to account we won’t hold others to account. Its the old- “I won’t tell on you, if you won’t tell on me” a conspiracy for mediocrity. For the most part we are unwilling to confront the lies around us because it’s uncomfortable and we refuse to step out of line conversationally. How I have handled this is by surrounding myself with those who know I will respect them when they speak up. They have my permission to hold me to who I say I am. Maybe the answer is for us all to step up as leaders for the truth- in every way and in every corner of our world.

  57. I still like Imagine.

    But like most of you, I feel betrayed.

    Great piece!

  58. Just love that Sam Harris quote. Gonna post that somewhere visible!!
    Thanks for the great article Beth!

  59. Great long post Sonia.

    Nowadays, many people desperately want to instantly reach their successful careers without taking the long-term process because they know that becoming successful people takes years of hard works. And their journey will be full of despairs and frustrations along the way. And those already make them scared, especially with the failure.

  60. You feel like a fool.

    And we’ve all been there. Thanks for sharing, Beth.

    I use the “NYTimes rule.”

    I imagine that tomorrow, someone is going to openly quote me on the front page of the NYTimes, and that I’m going to be responsible to defend my position, and the veracity of my sources.

    It seems to help keep me in the light, and resist the slow slide into the darkness of deceit.