Dis(Honesty) – The Truth About Lies by Yael Melamede doesn’t flinch from revealing what turns our abuse of the truth into ugly messes someone else has to clean up.
We take a who’s-who tour of deceitful individuals, from disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy (caught gambling on the games he officiated) to insider traders who never thought they’d get caught to a wife and mother seeking attention with an extramarital affair and lying to her husband about her nightly sojourns.
Dishonesty can take on many masks. There’s the lie deemed so small and inconsequential we still see ourselves as good people despite letting that lie slip past our lips. Remember when you exaggerated on your online dating profile or resume? Not a major lie, right? What the film teaches us is that the more we lie, however large or small, the easier it is for us to do so again, and the less we feel guilty for the action.
It’s fascinating to learn how neural MRIs reveal that the brain region associated with emotions such as guilt don’t light up the more we lie, thus desensitizing us to the shame of spreading lies.
Look at how insider traders and Ponzi schemers such as Bernie Madoff justify their actions, thinking that they’ll either never get caught or that everyone else is doing it. Such egoism can fester for years, until the shoe drops, er, or the prison bars clang loudly. Several interviewees caught doing something illegal expressed regret at lying, but they admitted that, at the time, they never thought they would end up in prison for their crimes.
At the centre of the film is Dan Ariely, Duke University professor and author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. He becomes the scientific mind behind the psychology of how lying comes so easily to many of us. While his segments sometimes slow down the momentum of the doc, his studies are essential to understanding the science behind dishonesty.
We lie for many reasons, and they’re not always self-serving. The film profiles a U.S. mother who lied about where she and her children lived so her kids could go to a better school outside of their regular district. She ended up serving jail time for forging documents, but she says she is now teaching her kids about the value of honesty, no matter the consequences.
Almost every industry is touched on in this film, from cycling’s doping scandals to Big Business to attracting media attention. It’s eye-opening to learn about how marketing firms fabricated negative press for a film in order for protest groups to create a real outcry and thus instigate press, however unflattering it is.
The main industries missing from Melamede’s film are politics and journalism and in a Q&A at the Toronto screening she admitted she wanted to include those perspectives, but no one was willing to go on camera to discuss their history with deception within politics or media.
Despite those gaps, Dis(Honesty) has plenty for you think about the next time you let a lie slip and think, “Meh, no harm, no foul.”