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The Masks We Wear: Machiavelli tells us to give thought to how other people see us and use that to our advantage.

The Lies We Tell: We are all liars. All of us. Except, of course, me. I always tell my readers the truth. You can trust me. As a special added bonus, we provide two free inspirational posters in this article.


The Social Masquerade

This man's mask tells us nothing about him. His is no one and everyone.The masks we wear tell others what to think of us. To the judge we present a law-abiding citizen - neglecting to mention the many laws we’ve broken over the years. To the bank we pose as a solvent citizen, without mentioning the size of our sports bets or our frequent overspending. To our employer, we pose as the diligent, hard working, eager employee with his shoulder to the wheel, his nose to the grindstone, and his eye on the ball. To the professor, we pose as a diligent scholar who seeks only knowledge and who is not concerned with the grade. To our ninth-grade child we pose as model humans for him to emulate. Our ninth-grade son, in the meantime, prefers to pattern himself after a rock star, a sports star, a cool eleventh grader, an actor in a commercial, or a comic book character. Much later in life, he may realize how much of his behavior was copied from yours - and he may not be happy about it.

We all go through this social masquerade, adopting a pose that others will approve of, cooperate with, and admire. We alEinstein caricature.l Einsteinwear masks. The Hezbollah warrior pictured above wears a mask that conceals everything about him. He could be anyone - a neighbor, a nephew, a taxi driver, a professor, a baker, anyone. His mask protects him, but it threatens us. 

The person in the Einstein mask at right is pretending to be the great scientist himself - in a humorous way of course. To make sure we understand his mask’s message, the distinctive features features of Einstein’s face have been exaggerated into a caricature. The hair is fuller, whiter, and longer; the nose is much longer; the furrowed brow is more furrowed; the mustache is whiter, thicker, and longer; and the chin is a little weaker.

The identity mask that you wear around others should be a caricature of yourself, exaggerating those features that we want people to recognize as our distinctive characteristics. Give them a few adjectives to attach to you. If someone asked your coworker, lover, priest, or professor to describe you in fifty words, make sure your mask displays the characteristics that you want included in those fifty words. You may wish for your The Lone Rangercoworker to think of you as a diligent, energetic workhorse; your lover to think of you as masculine, spontaneous, and poetic; your priest to not think of you at all; and your professor to think of you as a scholar of the old school. Present yourself as a virtuous person, but select your virtues carefully - four or five virtues should be enough. Create a virtuous caricature of yourself and play that character in public.

What virtues should you consciously display? The Boy Scout Oath (described in detail here) lists all of the big ones in our culture. None of us can think of these boy scout qualities as anything but good: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, brave, and clean. Make a point of displaying these qualities openly in almost any situation. People will admire you all the more for it.

Three other boy scout virtues are optional. They may be admired by some audiences and not by others. Your boss will like it if you make a point of displaying yourself as obedient and thrifty. Some people will appreciate you if you are openly reverent, but others will be annoyed by it, so pick your audiences carefully.

Make a point of displaying professional virtues to those you work with. They will vary depending on your profession. You should make a point of displaying your excellence in professional skills. Make sure everyone sees you as a law-abiding good citizen.

Learn to speak of your accomplishments in an off-handed, modest way. Mention them as second thoughts, mere details that round out and embellish the story you are telling. Modest boastfulness (or boastful modesty) is a skill that must be developed. In some countries, open boasting is natural and accepted. Among Americans, modesty is the pretense. It is, of course, only a pretense. There are few modest people and many pretenders.

Remember that social status cannot be claimed, only granted. If you are wealthy or prominent, do not take your status or Can a shy librarian be hiding behind this flirtatious mask? assumed reputation for granted. An egalitarian social style is preferred in this country. Rub elbows with the hoi polloi as equals and they will defer to you if they sense your importance. Do not become huffy in the “Do you know who I am?” style of huffiness. If there was ever a man with a realistic sense of his own importance, it was Julius Caesar, whose aspiration was to become the first ruler of the world. His legions loved him because he consorted with them, slapped backs with them, told them obscene jokes, and most of them would have died to save his life. Many did. Despite his easy interaction with his social inferiors, it never occurred to any of them that he was equal to Caesar. They granted him a high and beloved status which he could not have demanded and gotten.

No list of virtues is complete, because each situation calls for a different kind of hero to exhibit a different kind of virtue. In church display reverence and solemnity but on the battlefield display marksmanship and shout curses at the enemy while reloading.

You do not have to be a perfect person, and what a dreary life that would be. Just conceal your flaws and weaknesses as much as possible. Make sure others can see the approved virtues in you when you are making a point of exhibiting them. Be careful that you are not seen displaying the opposites of the boy scout virtues: treachery, double-crossing, indifference, hostility, rudeness, hurtfulness, grumpiness, cowardliness, and filthiness. These qualities are never viewed in a positive way.

  • Most people will form an impression of you (your reputation) based on a caricature of your features. We just don’t have time to psychoanalyze our associates. Help your acquaintances form an opinion of you that is to your advantage by consciously displaying behaviors that support the reputation you want to develop.
  • Do not give people too much detail, except for those closest to you. Those who only see occasional snippets of your behavior will be confused by details that do not fit into an easy pattern.
  • Do not give people details about your inner nature that would trouble them. Whom would it benefit?
  • Do not try to conceal everything about you from those around you. Let them see you, at the least, as a non-threatening person.


The Lies We Tell


Our social and professional interactions are based on lies. The shallow understanding of the word “lie” is that

  • One can only lie in speech or print. Lies are made up of words and sentences.
  • Every possible statement in the English language can be divided into
    Truth - “The sky is blue.” Look out the window and you will see that this is true.
    Lies - “Prunes do not have a laxative effect.” Eat a box of prunes and you will discover that this sentence is a lie.
    The Unknown - “I will live to be 123 years old.” We cannot know at this time whether that statement is true, but it is either true or false and we can eventually know which.

“Lie” is such a small word and it explains so little. As modern Machiavellianism teaches us, there is always more to the world than we have previously thought.
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There are three reasons why you should spend some time thinking about lying.

  1. Machiavellianism and lying have often been paired together by Machiavelli’s detractors, who are mostly liars. While lying is an important social and professional skill, there is no reason to associate it more closely with Machiavellians than with corporation managers, priests, educators, politicians, psychologists, or choreographers. Some people rarely lie. Some people lie often. All people lie. The Machiavellian position is that it is better to lie skillfully than poorly, if one chooses to lie. Lying badly is like juggling knives badly.
      If you never lie, you will never being caught lying. However, telling the truth all the time can cause you more trouble than lying - judiciously and skillfully - ever will.
  2. Lying often involves behaviors other than speaking and writing. One can lie with the languages of the body and the heart as well as the languages of the tongue and the pen. One can lie to the heart, the ears, the tongue, the nose, and the mind as well as to the intellect. One can lie to one’s lover. Gentlemen, have you ever asked your lover if she has been with a man who possessed larger or more satisfactory genitalia than yours? All men have asked their lovers that question and all have received the same reassuring, heartfelt, sincere, earnest reply.
  3. People lie to you all the time. Machiavelli was personally acquainted with kings, princes, and popes. He noted that all of them lied on occasion. It is never to your advantage to believe a lie. This photo, found on the net, is of professional skater Debbie Merrill.Those who lie to you are hiding the truth for a reason. It is always to your advantage to recognize the lie and learn the truth it was designed to conceal. Be suspicious of convenient truths - those that are of particular benefit to the person who is talking to you. Press for detail. As one of America’s greatest communicators said, “Trust, but verify.” Ronald Reagan knew better than most the power of human speech to shape the behavior of the listener. When someone lies to you, he is trying to shape your future behavior.

  4. Sometimes lies are told for a good reason. For example, suppose you dented the fender on the family car because you were distracted by a lovely sixteen year old girl in a bikini rollerblading along the sidewalk. It may be best to leave the part about the teenaged skater out of your story when you recount the details of the accident to your wife and your sixteen year old daughter.

The ambitious Machiavellian should give some thought to the fine art of lying. It is apparently a necessary skill, because those who bluntly tell the truth all the time are usually shunned. The great Roman Stoic and monumental pain-in-the-ass Cato was famous for never speaking a lie, among many other things. While history loved him, his contemporaries found him to be more than a little obnoxious. Those who are caught in a lie usually suffer because of being caught. Those who lie and are not caught lying typically do not suffer at all. It is being caught, not lying, that creates problems. Consider these points as you contemplate how lying should fit into your life.

  • Any conscious behavior that causes another person to What is this ad saying?disbelieve the truth or to remain ignorant of the truth is a lie. In addition to speech and writing, we lie with our emotions, pretending that we are sincere in our lies. We are careful not to break eye contact while telling the lie, so we are lying with our eyes as well as our tongues. We speak the lie emphatically, so we lie with vocal tones as well as words. We document the lie with false or incomplete references.
  • Modern marketing has learned to speak a lie and a truth simultaneously. The commercial’s announcer may tell the truth when he is quickly reading the fine print at the end of the commercial, but every image and every note of music in the commercial is carefully contrived to distract you from the fine print so that you remain oblivious to the truth. Note the Absolut ad at right. What is the truth? Do men get pregnant? No. If you drink Absolut vodka will you be transported to a better world? No. The truth is in the very fine, very faint print that is oriented sideways to the reader. You can barely see it - but not read it - below the word “IN.” Absolut is, of course, telling the truth - but in faded, fine, faint, sideways print. Truth and lie are married. (I recommend Absolut vodka as being very similar in quality and taste to other vodkas in that price range. They are all pretty much the same. Only advertising distinguishes one brand from another.)
  • Being caught in a lie is a very, very bad thing, so do not lie if you can be caught. Get caught lying to a person once and he will doubt you forever after.
  • A good lie is carefully planned so it won’t unravel with a little scrutiny. A good lie is very believable. A good lie is subtle. A good lie either keeps a person ignorant of the truth or suggests a false interpretation of the facts.
  • Bad liars become angry when someone suggests they might be lying. “How dare you doubt my integrity?” demands the pathological liar, thus making us think that he is probably lying. A good liar will say, “I can understand your skepticism. I didn’t believe it at first myself.” or “I completely understand your skepticism.”
  • Bad liars lie frequently. The thoughtful Machiavellian will lie only when absolutely necessary. He will plan the lie well. He will lie convincingly. He will not get caught.
  • If you think you are going to be caught anyway, do not lie. Tell the truth and deal with the consequences. Do the best to repair whatever damage you caused. Later, when you are really lying others will say, “He doesn’t lie. Remember that time when he confessed to ... ?” For example, let us suppose your wife has found a pair of panties somewhere in the house that do not belong to her. Where they came from and how they got there is a total mystery to you. She confronts you with them. “Where the hell did these come from? Who do they belong to?” she demands in a tone that turns your blood to ice. Perhaps you were making love to your girlfriend on the sofa the day before when your wife was at work, but your girlfriend never wears panties so you know they cannot be hers. Do not make up a quick lie about a woman whose car ran out of gas, who asked to use the phone, and who left her panties as a gift in gratitude. Instead say, “I have no idea where those came from.” You are in for a difficult few days so don’t compound your problems with a flimsy, spur-of-the-moment lie. Perhaps your wife suspects that you are having an affair, and the panty gimmick is a ruse by your clever bride to pry the truth out of you.
  • Never lie spontaneously. Think your lies through. Plan. Rehearse a few times so the lie doesn’t catch in your throat. A spontaneous lie will likely be poorly thought out, will fall apart when scrutinized by those who doubt you, and your delivery will be unconvincing.
  • Consider the likelihood that you are being lied to a fair percentage of the time, because you are.
  • When you know someone is lying, and you can prove it, cautiously and thoughtfully make the best use of that knowledge.
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Follow these simple steps. The most important rule is the first one: Never lie unnecessarily. You want to cultivate a reputation for scrupulous honesty. The more you lie, the more likely it is that you will be caught. If you are caught in one lie, you will be thought of as a liar by your associates. If you must lie for a critical reason, then think through the lie. Rehearse your lie in front of a mirror. Tell your lie convincingly. Above all, make sure you are never caught lying.

Chapter 15





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