Recently a battle ensued in social media. It started when Ryan Holiday, the public relations guy for American Apparel, answered Help A Reporter Out (HARO) inquiries pretending to be a qualified source, even when he wasn't, just to prove that bloggers and journalists don't always check their stories. Then he published a book detailing lies and scams he used to get published by bloggers and traditional media.
When the book launched, HARO founder and Twitter god Peter Shankman disparaged Holiday publicly, creating a media storm drawing even more attention to the book. Of course, it's possible that Holiday and Shankman are doing public battle simply for attention. Today, public controversy is an effective way to get your message heard above the noise.
Then Shankman made public calls for collective punishment towards Ryan for being a liar.
Really Peter? "Collective Punishment"? Branding with the scarlet "L"? If we were to truly inflict collective punishment on everyone who ever lied publicly, would anyone today actually hold up to that scrutiny? As honest as I try to be, I don't think I could live in that glass house.
Anyone who watches the Daily Show or reads Factcheck.org knows that lying is abundant with most of our politicians and in media. Nearly everyone lies at some point, often justifying and rationalizing it for the greater good.
Some people lie with malice, just to hurt others. This often includes family members and dissatisfied colleagues.
Some people lie for self-preservation. Perhaps the information requested is damaging and can actually hurt other people as well. The founding fathers knew people would lie in these circumstances and passed the 5th amendment to preempt it.
Some people lie with beneficial intent because they believe they are helping people or sparing others feelings. This can be misguided but still morally honorable in some eyes. In fact we applaud shows like Undercover Boss and encourage undercover investigations by police and journalists like Barbara Ehrenreich who lie to uncover important truths.
And yes, many people lie just to sell products or even themselves. In promotion there is little claim to honest exaggeration. Any degree of false representation is most likely a black and white lie. And it is generally well accepted in society despite occasional moral outrage.
As an example, Holiday also does PR for the very popular, bestselling author and former attorney, Tucker Max, best known for lying to women to get them in bed. Offensive perhaps, but I suppose if we exiled every lawyer who lied or man who lied to get sex, we would be left with a scarcity of lawyers and men. Of course there are many who might feel that to be a kinder and more pleasant society.
The point is, most people lie and you must somehow deal with it when you are not the liar. Here's how to benefit from the dishonesty of others.
1. Get habitual liars out of your inner circle.
Once you identify someone who can't tell the truth, you have the benefit of that knowledge. If you continue to engage that person in acts that require trust, any negative repercussions are your fault. You can confront the person with indisputable facts but that may only lead to argument. The best approach is to disengage with the liar and engage with others who fit your tolerance and morality profile. Also realize that if you hang around a known liar, others may brand you the same, or you'll at least look like a fool for consistently believing the untrustworthy.
2. Don't waste energy on liars or lies.
Lies are painful. As a business owner it's nearly impossible to compete against a lie. Personal slurs are difficult to rectify in the press or social media. Slander lawsuits are expensive and often yield little more than new cars for the attorneys. The surest way to win against habitual liars is to ignore them and be a proponent of truth. This approach may not be emotionally easy, but it leaves you plenty of energy and resources to focus on your goals and growth.
3. Use liars to your advantage.
If you are going to engage with liars, do it in a way that gets you the right kind of attention. Bring awareness to their falsehood by objectively promoting their public statements and the facts in contrast. This way you don't have to call them a liar but you get the benefit of exposing their dishonesty as the neutral, moral party. You can be the honest oasis in the desert of untruth.
Let's face it. Lies are abundant and accepted broadly in today's society, probably in yesterday's society as well. Living an honest life can be frustrating and challenging. It's easier to lie since truth requires time, breadth and consideration. But you can make the lies of others work for you. Hey, it gave me a decent column topic this week. Thanks Peter and Ryan.