Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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We’re normally taught that lying is bad and that we should never lie. But what if someone’s life depends on us lying to protect them? What if not lying would create terrible suffering? Lying to others and to ourselves has obvious, short-term advantages. Evolutionary biologists even argue that the ability to delude ourselves increases our ability to delude others which makes us more successful in life. This success has produced more offspring which has increased and passed on this particular trait. The “success” of self-deception however has serious down sides and easily becomes a selling of our souls to the devils of materialism. It pads us in a cocoon of illusion that blinds to any kind of authentic, truly meaningful life. If—as Sun Tzu said—the art of war is deception, the art of peace must include honesty and transparent authenticity.

Because, as Shakespeare notes, "All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players," our times of authentic, genuine self-expression have become rare or non-existent. From the earliest ages, we learn what people like; what they don't, what gets us approval and other positive reinforcement; what most often brings disapproval or even punishment. And during most periods of history, these lies of conformity, following herd instinct, and status quo acceptance bring the most approval. The creative, the innovators, the inventors, the changing world-view catalysts all too easily and frequently find themselves poisoned, reviled, burned at the stake, crucified, criticized, and condemned. And so, most of us, most of the time act out these elaborate but by now almost instinctual roles.

Attempts at open, honest communication—challenging even with one person—become almost impossible in groups. If we define "lie" as any verbal departure from what we deeply feel and think, almost inevitably, the larger the group we speak to, the bigger the lie. The larger the group, the broader the cultural denominator and the less tolerance for divergent views. This could explain why politicians have such a universal reputation for not telling the truth.

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Quotes (89)

“All men are liars.”

King David 1000 – 920 BCE
"The baffled king composing Hallelujah!"
from Book of Psalms

Themes: Lies

“I didn't lie! I just created fiction with my mouth!”

Homer 1
Primogenitor of Western culture

Themes: Lies Deception

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“A common liar shall not be believed, even when he speaks true.”

Aesop 620 – 546 BCE via Oliver Goldsmith
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

Themes: Lies

“Those who imagine truth in lies and see lies in truth, only follow a meaningless path of unhappiness and suffering.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via Shan Dao
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from Dhammapada धम्मपद

Themes: Lies

“A lie never lives to be old.”

Sophocles Σοφοκλῆς 497 – 405 BCE
“The Wise and Honored One”
from Acrisius

Themes: Lies

“Were there no question of advantage, the honest would be as likely to lie as the liar, and the liar would tell the truth as readily as the honest man.”

Herodotus Ἡρόδοτος 1 via Aubrey de Selincourt
“The Father of History”
from Histories

Themes: Lies Crime

“The rulers of the State are the only ones who should have the privilege of lying either at home or abroad; they may be allowed to lie for the good of the State.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE via Jowett
from Republic Πολιτεία

Themes: Lies

“What does ‘understanding words’ mean? With half-truths, it means knowing what is concealed; with seductive words, knowing the trap created; with deceitful words, seeing the lies; with evasive words, understanding the desperation behind the language.”

Mencius 孟子 372 – 289 BCE via Daniel K. Gardner, Shan Dao
from Book of Mencius 孟子

“No other evil we know is faster than Rumor, small and timid at first, then borne on a light air, she flits over ground while hiding her head on a cloud-top.”

Virgil 70 – 19 BCE
(Publius Vergilius Maro)
from Aeneid

Themes: Lies Deception

“Mortals go to war so that they can inherit dust, their vision distorted by the lie that they value which is nothing.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Didymos Thomas
from Gospel According to Thomas

Themes: War Lies

69. No Enemy

“Good liars must have a good memory.”

Quintilian 35 – 100 CE
from Institutio Oratoria

Themes: Lies

“at last somebody really cares about you, somebody is not playing a game of hypocrisy, is not going to tell you a lie in order to please you, which is what has been happening throughout your whole life”

Padmasambhava པདྨཱ་ཀ་ར། 1 via Chögyam Trungpa & Francesca Fremantle
("The Lotus-Born", Guru Rinpoche)
from Tibetan Book of the Dead

Themes: Lies

“Even your belief in deception is a lie.”

Thaganapa 1

Themes: Lies Deception

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blow for ever dies.”

Omar Khayyám 1048 – 1131 CE
Persian Astronomer-Poet, prophet of the here and now

from Rubaiyat

Themes: Impermanence Lies

“It is a world full of lies, and we shall make no mistake if we make up our minds that what we hear is really not at all strange and unusual but merely exaggerated in the telling.”

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE via Donald Keene
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Harvest of Leisure

Themes: Lies Deception

“If a statement is true or false depends on the heart of the speaker, not on the words he uses. Without meeting the person in question, it is impossible to tell.”

Bassui Tokushō 抜隊 得勝 1327 – 1387 CE
Meditation master without distraction

Themes: Lies Deception

“Man has great power of speech, but the greater part thereof is empty and deceitful. Animals have little, but that little is useful and true. Better is a small and certain thing than a great falsehood.”

Leonardo da Vinci 1452 – 1519 CE
from Notebooks, c. 1500

Themes: Lies Deception

“Cunning and deceit will serve a man better than force to rise from a base condition to great fortune.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from Discourses on Livy

Themes: Lies Deception

“Truth is as naked and open daylight that does not show the masques, and mummeries, and triumphs of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. . . A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE

“When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her though I know she lies, ...
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from Sonnet CXXXVIII

Themes: Lies

“Do not believe, or like, lightly… Lying is the usual thing, so then let belief be unusual.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE

Themes: Lies

71. Sick of Sickness

“Lies always come first, truth lags last limping along on the arm of time.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #146
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Lies Truth

“Human life is thus only an endless illusion. Men deceive and flatter each other. No one speaks of us in our presence as he does when we are gone. Society is based on mutual hypocrisy.”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time

Themes: Illusion Lies

“The supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and with the specious title of religion to cloak the fear by which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation.”

Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677 CE

71. Sick of Sickness

“And, after all, what is a lie? 'Tis but the truth in a masquerade.”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer

Themes: Lies Deception

“When one has destroyed an error, there is always someone who resuscitates it. One must combat ceaselessly.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE via Raymond Naves,
from Philosophical Dictionary

Themes: Lies

“What is history? The lie that everyone agrees on…”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Nothing indeed can be a stronger presumption of falsehood than the approbation of the multitude.”

David Hume 1711 – 1776 CE via letter to Adam Smith
"One of the most important philosophers"

Themes: Conformity Lies

“We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.”

Diderot 1713 – 1784 CE
from Encyclopédie

“By a lie a man throws away and annihilates his dignity as a man.”

Immanuel Kant 1724 – 1804 CE

Themes: Lies

“It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime."”

Thomas Paine 1737 – 1809 CE

Themes: Crime Lies

“We retail and mangle truth. So that we may deceive others with a tranquil conscience, we begin with deceiving ourselves.”

William Godwin 1756 – 1836 CE
Provocative and influential social, political, and literary critic
from Enquiry Concerning Political Justice

Themes: Lies Deception

“Some books are lies from end to end, and some great lies were never penn'd...”

Robert Burns 1759 – 1796 CE

Themes: Books Lies

“The only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy.”

William Hazlitt 1778 – 1830 CE
One of the English languages best art and literature critics of all time

from Characteristics, 1823

Themes: Lies Delusion

“If you stroke a cat, it will purr; if you praise a man, a sweet expression of delight will appear on his face even though the praise is a palpable lie.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via T. Bailey Saunders
from Wisdom of Life

“If we suspect that a man is lying, we should pretend to believe him; for then he becomes bold and assured, lies more vigorously, and is unmasked.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

Themes: Lies Deception

“Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism
from Prudence

Themes: Lies Truth

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Disraeli, Benjamin 1804 – 1881 CE
(Earl of Beaconsfield )
Political balance between mob rule and tyranny

Themes: Lies Deception

“Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure.”

Charles Darwin 1809 – 1882 CE
from Descent of Man

Themes: Lies Science

“No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.”

Abraham Lincoln 1809 – 1865 CE

Themes: Memory Lies

40. Returning

“Theology is the science of the divine lie, jurisprudence the science of the human lie, and metaphysics and idealistic philosophy the science of the half-lie”

Mikhail Bakunin 1814 – 1876 CE
Romantic rebel, revolutionary anarchist, founding father of modern socialism
from Gesammelte Werke

Themes: Lies Deception

“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE via Constance Garnett
from Brothers Karamatzov

Themes: Lies Integrity

“The history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Truth consists not in never lying but in knowing when to lie and when not to do so... Any fool can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well... The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Truth Lies

“Everybody lies...every day, every hour, awake, asleep, in his dreams, in his joy, in his mourning. If he keeps his tongue still his hands, his feet, his eyes, his attitude will convey deception.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

Themes: Dream Deception Lies

49. No Set Mind

“It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

Themes: Lies

20. Unconventional Mind

“There is no worse lie than a truth misunderstood by those who hear it.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902

Themes: Lies

“He who cannot lie, doth not know what truth is.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE

Themes: Lies

40. Returning

“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from The Portable Nietzsche, 1954

Themes: Fanaticism Lies

“Popular lies have ever been the most potent enemies of personal liberty.”

Arthur Desmond 1859 – 1929 CE
from Might Is Right

Themes: Freedom Lies

“We're all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”

Rudyard Kipling 1865 – 1936 CE
Greatest—in-English—short-story writer

from The Light That Failed

Themes: Lies

“Advertising is legalized lying.”

H. G. Wells 1866 – 1946 CE
A father of science fiction and One World Government apostle

Themes: Lies Economics

“The price of culture is a Lie.”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE
from Souls of Black Folk

Themes: Culture Lies

“In the end deceivers deceive only themselves.”

Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948 CE

Themes: Lies Deception

“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

G. K. Chesterton 1874 – 1936 CE

Themes: Lies Deception

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965 CE

Themes: Deception Lies

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“No nation keeps its word. A nation is a big, blind worm, following what? Fate perhaps. A nation has no honor, it has no word to keep. …”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist

75. Greed

“A harmful truth is better than a useful lie.”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE via Arthur Koestler​
Deep, psychologically insightful author

Themes: Lies Truth

“People rarely tell a deliberate lie, in most cases they think they speak the truth. And yet they lie all the time, both when they wish to lie and when they wish to speak the truth, both to themselves and to others. This is why most never understand either themselves or anyone else.”

Ouspensky Пётр Демья́нович Успе́нский 1878 – 1947 CE
(Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii)

Themes: Lies Deception

“It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

Will Rogers 1879 – 1935 CE

Themes: Lies Belief

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.”

Franklin Roosevelt 1882 – 1945 CE
Champion and creator of a more just and equitable society

Themes: Lies Deception

“In times of great passion, the duty of the intellectual is to remain silent because in times of passion one has to lie and the intellectual has no right to lie.”

Ortega y Gassett, José 1883 – 1955 CE
Spanish philosopher, historian, and essayist
from Time Magazine, 1955

Themes: Lies Inscrutable

“I say one thing, you write another, and those who read you understand still something else!”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Last Temptation of Christ

Themes: Lies

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Something always remains and sticks from the most impudent lies, a fact which all bodies and individuals concerned with the art of lying in this world know only too well, and hence they stop at nothing to achieve this end.”

Adolf Hitler 1
the most immoral and cruel conqueror in human history
from Mein Kampf (1935)

Themes: Lies

“People lie all the time and most times we are clueless and fall for it. Sometimes, we choose to believe the lie and then blame someone else when it catches up to us. You can pick the lie, fall for it, turn your back on the truth; but, don’t bother screaming when it stabs you in the back.”

Margaret Postgate Cole 1893 – 1980 CE

Themes: Lies Deception

“An unexciting truth may be eclipsed by a thrilling lie.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World Revisited (1958)

Themes: Lies

“What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.”

Margaret Mead 1901 – 1978 CE

Themes: Lies Deception

“"I tell so many lies I have to write them down and keep them in the lie box so I can keep them straight."”

Anais Nin 1903 – 1977 CE

Themes: Deception Lies

20. Unconventional Mind

“A little hypocrisy and a little compromise oils the wheels of social life”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE
from Steps to an Ecology of the Mind

Themes: Lies Peace

“Lying is not only saying what isn't true. It is also, in fact especially, saying more than is true and, in the case of the human heart, saying more than one feels. We all do it, every day, to make life simpler.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

Themes: Lies Deception

“Animals, even plants, lie to each other all the time... What is it that enables certain flowers to resemble nubile insects, or opossums to play dead, or female fireflies to change the code of their flashes in order to attract, and then eat, males of a different species?... we could restrict the research to them, putting off the real truth about ourselves for the several centuries we need to catch our breath.”

Lewis Thomas 1913 – 1993 CE
Gestaltist of science and art
from Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1984)

Themes: Lies Deception

“Society persuades the individual to do what it wants by making it appear that its commands are the individual's inmost self... I am actually being controlled by other people's words and gestures masquerading as my inner or better self.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

Themes: Control Lies

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”

John Kennedy 1917 – 1963 CE
Modern America's most popular president

“Man has a false heart in his mouth for the world to see, another in his breast to show to his special friends and his family, and the real one, the true one, the secret one, which is never known to anyone except to himself alone, hidden only God knows where.”

James Clavell 1921 – 1994 CE
Fictionalizing and fictional historian

Themes: Lies Family

“Human beings seem to have an almost unlimited capacity to deceive themselves, and to deceive themselves into taking their own lies for truth.”

R. D. Laing 1927 – 1989 CE
from Politics of Experience

Themes: Deception Lies

“The untold story mothers the lie… the story has no beginning and no story has an end… the story is never true but the lie is indeed the child of silence.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE
from Matter of Seggri

Themes: Lies History

“Everything we are taught is false—everything.”

Jim Harrison 1937 – 2016 CE
"untrammeled renegade genius”
from Paris Review, 1988​

Themes: Lies

“You're telling all those lies about the good things that we can have if we close our eyes”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE
from Rubber Soul

Themes: Lies Ignorance

“All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

Paul Simon 1941 CE –
Prolific planter of musical, cultural wisdom seeds

Themes: Delusion Lies

“You're telling all those lies about the good things that we can have if we only close our eyes… Do what you want to and go where you're going to; think for yourself, cause I won't be there with you”

George Harrison 1943 – 2001 CE
Guitar-playing philanthropist

from Think for Yourself

Themes: Lies Reason

“Every society produces its own cultural conceits, a set of lies and delusions about itself that thrives in the face of all contrary evidence.”

Jack Weatherford 1945 CE –
from Secret History of the Mongol Queens

“We deceive ourselves in order to deceive others better… Like a lawyer, the human brain wants victory, not truth; and, like a lawyer, it is sometimes more admirable for skill than for virtue”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Moral Animal — Why we are the Way we Are

Themes: Lies Deception

“We are far from the only dishonest species, but we are surely the most dishonest… honesty can be a major blunder.”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Moral Animal — Why we are the Way we Are

Themes: Lies

“Each of us is descended from innumerable generations of men who lied, cheated, charmed, bullied, or killed their way to sexual intercourse, and from innumerable generations of women who charmed, seduced, lied, or manipulated their way to extracting economic privileges in return for access to their bodies.”

Paul Seabright 1958 CE –
Author and British Professor of Economics
from War of the Sexes

“Americans may be under-educated, lazy, and disorganized, but they do one thing better than any people on the face of the earth, and that is watch television... You can tell lies to them and they'll never know.”

Neal Stephenson 1959 CE –
(Stephen Bury)
Speculative futurist and cultural social commentator

from Interface (1994)

“Anyone who claims to know what's going on will lie about the little things too.”

Neil Gaiman 1960 CE –
Myth-transmitting creative maelstrom
from American Gods

“The lie that happiness is about borrowing money you haven’t got to buy crap you don’t need”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Bone Clocks

53. Shameless Thieves

“Naming, even in ridicule, gives what is named substance.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Themes: Lies Illusion

1. The Unnamed

“For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide that are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined. In the earth 21st Century, the average human is far more likely to die from binging on McDonald's than from drought, Ebola or an al-Qaeda attack”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from Homo Deus

Themes: Lies

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