levels of deception

The 3 Levels of Human Deception Explained

Deception is deviation from an agreed upon truth, whether that truth is spoken and established or unspoken because it’s generally understood.

The analogy we’re going to use to explain the three different levels of deception is a classic in moral examples: Making cookies.

There are 3 Levels of Deception as it relates to human relationships.

  • Level 1: Ignorance
  • Level 2: Non-disclosure
  • Level 3: False

Each of these levels carry with it a degree of action necessary, if possible, to write the relationship back into a place of trust and mutual respect.

Article Topics

Level 1: Ignorance

To begin our scenarios we’ll start off with the story of an older brother baking cookies for his younger sister.  The specific relationship isn’t as important for understanding but the closer the relationship typically the higher degree of expected trust and loyalty.  

The older brother is making peanut butter cookies for his younger sister and she can’t wait!   He mentioned he was able to make the cookies and the sister once had a delicious peanut butter cookie and so she was excited.  She also thought it was so nice for her brother to be making the cookies for her.  

As the brother was adding the ingredients together and getting ready to mix he got the moment to add the recipe required 3 eggs and pulling them from the carton one by one he simply added them to the mixing bowl one by one. Before mixing he crushed the eggs, shells and all into the cookie dough and mixed the heap together. 

20 minutes later the cookies are done and he calls his sister into the room. She can’t wait!  She sits down in the chair closest to the stove as her brother sets a plate with two giant golden cookies down in front of her.

Levels of Deception - info

The brother then brings a wide glass of milk for her to dip the cookies into. The sister’s mouth is watering. The cookies’ smooth gold appearance is exactly as she remembered.  The brother watched excitedly as his sister breaks the first cookie in half and dips one half into the cup and brings it to her mouth. She takes a huge bite and begins chewing when she suddenly stops. Her eyes grow wide and she spits the cookie out.  She looks up at her brother, confused at first and wondering if maybe he didn’t realize all the egg shells she unmistakably crunched between her teeth.  

She confronts him and tells him how horrible the taste and texture is. He is shocked.  He hadn’t actually made cookies before and he thought he was following the recipe right!  What could be wrong? 

The sister tells him the shell taste is overwhelming and the broken shell prices ruined the cookie.  He explains he really didn’t know not to include the shells and apologized at the silliness of the error and then they both begin laughing historically at their situation. What they now have is a large batch of shell filled cookies!  The dog will be so happy! 

Analysis:  In this example the level of deception is obviously one of ignorance.  What the sister expected were shell free cookies.  That expectation is important because it wasn’t a spoken or pre-communicated expectation.  It didn’t have to be as “everyone knows” cookies aren’t filled and mixed with egg shells!  It’s a simple form of a universal truth, applied to an everyday scenario, but it highlights how what occurred in deviating from that unspoken expectation based on a universal truth occurred.  How did it occur?  This level of deviation or lightly, deception, occurred out of ignorance.  

Righting the deviation from truth and re-establishing trust:  A simple apology and admittance of error.  

Level 2: Non-disclosure

In this scenario everything begins the same.  The older brother is making cookies for his sister.  He begins adding ingredients to the recipe and although he knows he should be breaking the eggs and discarding the shells he chooses not to.  Crushing the egg shells firmly into the bottom of the mixing bowl he mixes the ingredients as thoroughly as possible to keep the shells from being spotted in the final cookie.  

The anticipation is the same for the sister.  She can’t wait until she can eat one of her brother’s delicious cookies.  The brother of course knows what had happened.  He’s aware of the deviation away from the universal truth his sister expects to take place, ie, delicious cookies without masses of egg shells hidden inside.  

This time, after the sister takes a giant bite and spits out the shell ridden cookie she confronts him asking why he left the shells in and he gives a different answer. The brother admits to it and, knowing he shouldn’t have given a list of reasons why:  He was tired and it was taking too long. He thought it would be funny.  He wanted to try something new and his sister was the unsuspecting Guinea pig.  He really didn’t care if the cookies would be good or bad. 

After a few minutes of his sister being upset and contemplating his action he apologizes and tells her he is going to make a new batch, shell free. 

Analysis:  There are many reasons the brother might have chosen to leave the shells in and crush them and mix them into the dough. The “why” behind them varies: Lazy, uncaring, devious, or simply a trickster. 

What made the brother admit his action?   Maybe he felt guilty. Guilt is often the first emotional indication we have as human beings that our thoughts, speech or actions have deviated away from what we believe or understand to be truth.  That guilt may show up whether it’s a universal or relative truth.  

What has occurred between the sister and brother however because of the action and decision he made?  She had lost trust in him.  He knowingly deviated from the truth of what should have been the outcome, shell-less cookies.   

Righting the deviation from truth and re-establishing trust:  A simple apology might not cover it this time.  Her brother knowingly deceived and while he apologized the sister had a memory and example of his having omitted the knowledge of the deception as she took the bite.  He wasn’t forthright. Had he stopped her even before the bite and admitted to the deception he would have salvaged even more.   Because she carried forward with the act of receiving the cookie and taking the bite, his moment for revealing the truth of his actions had past.   

Eventually, with a good sense of humor and the brother showing her with a few other opportunities that he can be trusted she’ll be able to laugh about it herself and his “reputation” for operating in the truth will be restored and she won’t have a reading to question his integrity (keeping alignment in thought, word and action with the truth) and their relationship will heal. It may even be stronger because they’ve each grown and together healed in a place that revealed fault and healing. 

Level 3: False

What is the opposite of true?  Well, that answer is false.  It’s universal and didn’t need to be discussed between me (the author) and you the reader did it?  It’s an unspoken truth, often spoken but we expect it because it’s inherent and logical as well as universal. 

What is the deepest level of deception then?  It’s being false. This can be done through thought, speech or action although typically it’s speech and action that is most obvious and prevalent. 

The same scenario.  The brother crushed the shells and mixed them into the cookie dough.  The sister sits down in anticipation as she can’t wait for the delicious cookie her brother told her he would be making for her.  

She bites into it and although he knows it’s full of shells he doesn’t say anything. She spits out the cookie and looks at him.  She’s looking for an explanation, directly into his eyes so that he can reveal what he knows to her.  In this case, he lies.  

She’s immediately confused.  She knows the cookie had shells.  She asks him again and again and he denies it.  Now, the first question and thought into her mind is if she imagined it. She looks at the cookie and can’t really see anything different in appearance and she might even take another bite.  Now she knows for sure it’s shells!  Or, if it’s not shells then something is at least wrong with this cookie.   The brother denies it again.  He says she is imagining things and the cookie is just fine.  The brother knows but lies and as his sister is getting upset makes the decision not to tell her.  He chose the shells and for whatever reason (devious, humor, not caring etc) he sticks with his story because it was his choice to keep the shells in.

The sister isn’t just shocked now, she’s hurt.   The trust she had for her brother was shaken and while she questioned her own reality for a brief moment she’s sure it was shelms, or at least something was wrong, and now the brother has stoically maintained his position, his lie.

If her brother cared about how she felt she would expect him to at least apologize, maybe to have his fun first but then at least apologize so they could reestablish the trust that was there. With trust she was confident in the mutual respect.  In addition to respect there was even admiration for her brother.  Here was this person she cared for and admired and now he didn’t care at all for her and not only did she taste the gross cookie but she was hurt even more deeply because he refused to admit the truth. He continued to be false, living in a space of falsity and avoiding the truth.

Righting the deviation from truth and re-establishing trust:  With this scenario there isn’t a possibility of re-establishing trust.  If the brother continues to deny the truth and maintain the lie through knowing speech and action that is opposite the truth, there is no re-establishing of trust.

Bringing This Home

Trust is based on truth.  It’s based on respect and a mutual unspoken agreement of operating in thought, speech and action on truth.   Ignorance can cause one of the two parties of a relationship to deviate from the truth.  We are all human and acknowledging that as quickly as possible can easily bring a relationship of trust back into being. 

Omission and non-disclosure is a choice by one of the two parties.  That person has decided their reason, whatever it may be, is of more immediate value than the cost of trust it takes.  This can be righted by eventual admission, apology and through continued demonstrating of right speech and action over time. 

The third level, False, is exactly the opposite of operating in the space of truth and integrity (integrity meaning operating in truth through thought, speech or action).   It can be maneuvered into level 2 but the more time that passes typically doesn’t improve those chances.  After a certain amount of time it eventually becomes how a person is known or believed to be overall.  The trust between two people becomes nearly completely unrecoverable.  Truth is where peace, love and mutual respect preside. Trust is the representation of truth within a relationship.  When trust is shaken, peace and love collapse because mutual respect has faltered with the lie, the deviation of truth.