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Last September, when President Barack Obama spoke in a nationally-aired address to Congress, Republican Rep. Joe Wilson shouted "You lie!" His outburst sparked a national discussion about lying.
What is lying? Here at Lakeland College, lying and deception was the central topic of a three-week course taught by assistant professor of sociology, Christopher D. Moore.
"Deception in Human Communication" heightened student awareness and understanding of how lying and deception happens, explored topics ranging from mimicry and camouflage used by plants and animals, to the ethics of deceptive behavior and framed deception as a tool people use to get what they want.
"Lying is a tool much like a wrench," said Moore, who often used deception during interrogations when he was a criminal investigator in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
Lying and deception are most effective in societies with strong norms for telling the truth.
"Lying and deception work, in part, because we believe people are generally truthful," Moore said.
The class presented all side of the morals and ethics of lying and deception, from 'you should never lie,' to 'everyone else is doing it, so you should lie to suit your purposes.' "I want them to know the alternatives and explore this topic with their eyes open and make their own decisions," Moore said.
Beau Bradshaw, a junior from Oak Lawn, Ill. majoring in history, felt the class taught ethical lessons that apply to a wide range of majors.
"We discussed when it's right to deceive someone," Bradshaw said. "For example, is it OK to catch a criminal by saying you have evidence that you don't? When do you cross the line of what is and is not acceptable? One thing I didn't realize is that our parents deceive us right away about things like Santa Claus. A lot of the things that make childhood special are not quite true."
The topic is an especially timely exploration for today's college students. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and texting are just some of the dozens of electronic formats where students spend hours exchanging messages and sharing photos.
"The more we extend our networks, the more opportunity there is for deception or miscommunication to occur," Moore said. "YouTube videos and Facebook pages have a lifespan far beyond what many of their creators realize. The lesson is to be deliberate about what you're communicating and understand the long-term consequences of these very public actions."
Are you a liar? Have you ever lied to someone because you were being polite, or because you felt it was the right thing to do? What are things you would never lie about? What would you never want someone to lie to you about? Share your stories below.