By Dayna Mason
Many of us go through life pretending rather than living. We lie to protect—not just ourselves but others. Lying is a slippery slope and damages trust. When we are dedicated to honesty, we promote meaningful relationships and become all that lying helps us pretend we already are.
Why we lie
We all lie. Yet most of us also consider ourselves honest. We justify our lies by telling ourselves the lie was necessary to protect someone—even ourselves—to avoid pain, embarrassment or conflict. It might be to protect other’s perceptions of us. We want others to think well of us, so rather than admit our mistakes we cover them up. It may be to protect someone’s feelings—we don’t want to admit that their invitation seems boring, so we say we’re busy.
Most of the time we get away with these little lies, so we continue thinking of them as useful tools. But even a small lie could expose us as a liar, which would damage our reputation and others’ ability to trust us. One lie often leads to another, leading to even greater negative consequences if discovered. The fear of discovery could cause us more distress than we imagine.
The truth may hurt but it doesn’t harm
The truth might “hurt” briefly but deception “harms” us. For example, a friend invites us to an event that we don’t want to attend. If we are honest and say we are uninterested in the event, we may hurt their feelings in that moment. But, if we were to lie and say we can’t attend because we are busy only to have them discover our deception, we not only hurt their feelings, we betray their trust and harm the relationship.
“Better to get hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie.”—Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
The truth is always the truth, and any pain resulting from learning the truth is compounded exponentially by deception. As my friend Sean Brown says, “When we tell the truth and are authentic, we can deal with the aftermath or ramifications of those truths.”
Profanity and honesty
A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science (2017) found that “profanity was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level, and with higher integrity at the society level.”
“Profanity is the spontaneous expression of emotions such as anger, frustration, or surprise. The use of profanity is usually the unfiltered genuine expression of emotions, with the most extreme example the bursts of profanity accompanying Tourette syndrome. Speech involving profane words has a stronger impact on people than regular speech and has been shown to be processed on a deeper level in people’s minds.” (Jay, Caldwell-Harris, & King, 2008)
People who swear are generally more honest.
We are human lie detectors
When we lie, we feel discomfort in our body, because our commitment to the lie is in opposition to who we really are. When we feel compelled to lie, our character defects are exposed, and we have an opportunity to examine them and make changes. When someone lies to us, we also feel a sensation of discomfort even if we don’t consciously understand why.
I recently reflected on some events in my life where I felt misunderstood. Upon closer examination I realized that I wasn’t actually misunderstood, but that I had unintentionally communicated some underlying truth that I was trying to hide with my words. Please forgive my judge-y-ness in what I’m about to share. In one situation I privately (in my mind) questioned someone’s decorating choices for a craft project. My judgement found them “tacky.” Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, I kept those thoughts to myself. Instead, as “treasurer” for the club, I focused on my other truth and questioned their design choice based on expense. I asked, “Why cover up expensive ribbon with inexpensive curling ribbon?” and suggested we stick to one style to save money. I believed my question was valid and justified. What I didn’t realize is that people are human lie detectors and even though I never said the words, my underlying judgment was communicated anyway, and the person’s feelings were hurt.
Although we cannot consciously discern when someone is lying, we do sense it on a less-conscious level. Often we then talk ourselves out of it. Research published in Psychological Science found that we all have pre-set instincts for detecting lies, but they are often overridden by our conscious minds.
Trying to hide our truth or pretending—attempting to present ourselves in a manner contrary to how we actually feel—doesn’t work. It damages relationships and ultimately stunts our personal growth.
Benefits of honesty
Some people feel that they will be rejected if they’re honest, but the reality is that those who reject us for being honest don’t care about us anyway. All you risk losing by being honest is the illusion of someone’s affection. Conversely, lying can cause those who do care about us to reject us for the betrayal they feel.
When we develop a reputation for tactful but complete honesty, others know they can rely on us to tell the truth. Especially when it matters.
If lying doesn’t truly protect anyone but can actually harm the relationships we care about, and those who are lied to can sense the lie anyway, why not strive for honesty?
When we let go of rationalizing our need to lie and pretending to be someone we’re not, we can finally grow into the person we want to be.
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