Why taking things out of context is worse than outright lies
Written by Brendan Mooney Psychologist
We can all relate to taking something out of context, and experiencing how this changes what was originally expressed into something completed different. Examples of this occur everywhere from our personal lives to the media and in organisations.
Taking things out of context is a very common way we manipulate in relationships.
In essence, we ought to be responsible when communicating and expressing with others. But why do we choose to not do this at times and instead choose to take something out of context? And what do we have to gain by doing so?
Taking something out of context, whether done consciously or not, is designed to distort truth and instead present a bastardised version of it. This can be done by omitting certain details from what was originally expressed, or replacing certain details with others, or even by surrounding what was originally expressed with information which results in a distortion of the original meaning.
For example: Someone talking to a friend about an argument they have with a partner but leaving out certain details that would provide more context and understanding for the reasons behind the partner’s actions. Through omitting certain details the other is misrepresented and the truth decontextualized.
So why are we not prepared to tell the full truth about what is actually going on, but instead express a distorted version of it? Is it possible that we are avoiding being exposed for being irresponsible, and hence, by expressing only certain aspects, we deliberately omit other details that would tell a completely different story?
It takes a very discerning and astute person to detect when another is taking something out of context, particularly when it is done in a very subtle way.
In society, taking things out of context appears to be seen as a fairly innocent thing to do, something that perhaps most would not consider particularly serious unless in extreme cases.
But what if taking things out of context is actually more insidious than outright lies?
Consider that when someone expresses an outright lie, we could say that with a little research what they have expressed can be traced as being a lie. So in essence an outright lie is eventually self-exposing and not particularly subtle in its deceit.
However, when we take things out of context often the majority of what is expressed is actually true, apart from a few ‘minor’ details. And this is why it is far more cunning, deceptive, manipulative and in fact abusive to take things out of context. For it is much more difficult for the listener to recognise that what is being expressed is actually not true, because in many cases it is very close to what the truth is or represents– but due to the distortion it now contains no truth whatsoever. Hence it is a far more sophisticated version of lying.
And because most of what is expressed is likely to be true, this is often the justification used by those who choose to distort truth in this way.
Only when we express the whole truth can we truly claim we are not lying.
Do we even consider taking things out of context to be lies? It seems most would not, because what they are expressing is the truth just not the whole truth. But as a society we ought to begin to define a lie as also the absence of truth, given the devastating consequences it can sometimes bring when this occurs.
Is it possible that the more we want to avoid dealing with something, the more cunning we are prepared to be about distorting the truth?
When we take things out of context, we are essentially wanting sympathy from the person we are talking to. By painting a picture that we think will appeal to another’s sympathy, we hope that by gaining their support we will be confirmed in our own stance. And if another is willing to go along with this then no evolution or growth occurs. In other words, the conversation simply becomes one of cementing the speaker’s own views through the enabling of the listener, and both are comfortable that what they have concluded is ‘right’. But at what point will we mature and say being ‘right’ is not being ‘true’, and then cease the desire to be ‘right at all costs’?
Whilst there are many other ways we can distort truth, this article has focused on the aspect of taking things out of context. Future articles will focus on many other aspects that will support in bringing understanding to how and why we manipulate the truth and how we can start to address these patterns of behaviour.
More will be written in an upcoming series of articles on this topic. If you would like to read more be sure to subscribe to receive email updates.
BIOGRAPHY Psychologist Brendan Mooney works with adults, adolescents and children. With a genuine interest in people's well-being, Brendan brings a warmth, practicality and an equality that supports clients to truly address underlying issues and blockages that are preventing them from moving forward.