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White Collar Lies

By Dian Vujovich

Like one of the songs from Cabaret reminds us, “Money makes the world go around. “And indeed it does. But why do we lie so much about it?

One of the most frequent social lies that individuals of all income levels tell is the amount of money they have. That includes not telling the truth about how much money they have or don’t have, their debt levels, what they earn each year, how much they spend each month, what they paid for that new pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, how much is in their trust, how fat their retirement, savings or IRAs are, how their stocks are performing and the list goes on and on.

Don’t believe me? Well, when was the last time your kid asked for a new Mac and you said you couldn’t afford it even though you really could but simply preferred not to buy it for them?

Lying about money is just something we do. It’s popular. Acceptable. And hey, everyone from our government leaders right down to our tax accountant’s fiddle with figures to make things out to be something other than what they really may be. Why not us?

So what’s the big deal when investors get hoodwinked into believing something that looks too good to be true turns out to be, in fact, too good to be true? Well, along with rattling our egos, it faces us to look at things like our selves and those we trust.

From a social sciences point of view, Wikipedia defines “trust” as a “relationship of reliance…based upon what a party knows about another party.” One in which, “A trusted party is presumed to seek to fulfill policies, ethical codes, law and their previous promises.”

Once we find out a trust has been broken, however, it’s often not repairable. Those breaking our trust may be forgiven but the incident not likely forgotten. Hopefully, lessons are learned on that front.

As for our individual propensity for lying, in a 2005 MONEY magazine piece, psychologist Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, author of a number of studies on deception, summed up the whole lying thing like this: “People lie because they need to present themselves as competent and worthy. Money is one key way people feel they are valued.”

I know it’s both unrealistic and too much to ask for the world to change and people to stop the money lies they tell. But we could take a little step in that direction if we started to value people for the unique individual’s that they are and not place their value on the money they have or may not have.

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