Personal integrity and honesty are very important to me. One of the strongest values my dad managed to pass on to me is the truth. Numerous times during my childhood, I saw him sacrifice acceptance and even money in order to follow what he believed to be true and real. He also repeated that lesson to me often.
While growing up, however, I found out this was not the case with everyone. There were many situations in which I knew the truth and witnessed people denying it or acting as if the opposite was the case.
When I talked to my mom about it, she told me, “Sometimes, people don’t exactly lie, but they tell a ‘white lie’ to avoid complications or embarrassment”. The world, it turned out, was not a courtroom drama, where it was “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.
When I decommissioned one of our computers, which had Microsoft Office on it, I wanted to activate that same license on a new computer. When the online activation failed, I rang Microsoft and asked for their help.
“Have you uninstalled the software from your old computer?” the support person asked.
“No”, I said, “That computer is no longer in use”.
“I’m sorry, Sir, but you have to uninstall the software”.
“Does that deactivate the license at your end?”
“No. So have you uninstalled it, Sir?”
I kept trying to explain the real situation a few times, after which the connection was suddenly cut off. I rang again and had a similarly frustrating conversation with another person, who also hung up on me.
I was furious!
Then I realized what was happening. I asked Eden to ring and inform them that the software has been successfully uninstalled. They activated the new installation in seconds.
So lies have been institutionalized and you cannot get very far without them anymore.
Some time ago, I attended what I thought would be a series of presentations on building great websites, but turned out to be a series of presentations on various topics, including personal philosophy, business, training and other things. One particular presentation was called “Do not lie” and it made me revisit the issue of living honestly from an adult and even a parent perspective.
Here is this 5-minute talk for your enjoyment. The speaker is from Austria, but the talk is in Australia, hence the funny references. I think the common image of German speakers being very direct and straight about everything also helps in delivering his messages.
Let’s survey the room. Please raise your hand if you have even
- Faked a headache
- “Lost” your homework
- “Had to be somewhere else” when you were asked to help or attend an event
- Conveniently forgot about times when you were fired and glorified your professional achievements on a resume
- Told someone how good they looked (or their work), but did not think so
- Agreed to another person’s political, philosophical or social comment just to make a good impression
- Pretended to be someone else online or on the phone
- Said everything was great when things were pretty chaotic in your life
- Told your kids there is a tooth fairy
- Used “chewing gum and sticky tape” to keep a product looking good during a presentation, because it was not ready yet for a real test
The truth?! You can’t handle the truth!
As Patrick Klug says, lies are often used as a “social lubricant”, a way to keep things smooth and avoid confrontation. But why would there be any friction in the first place if we were honest?
I believe the answer is related to our self-confidence.
You see, our view of the world makes us believe that other people are just like us. That way, when we are tired and feel like sleeping, instead of, um, doing “other things”, we fear that our partner might feel rejected, because we would feel that way in their place. So we tell them we have a headache or provide some other explanation that would make us feel better.
If our parents cannot help with our homework, cannot afford our study materials or need us to help in the afternoons, we prefer to say our homework was lost, after we presumably did it, instead of sharing our family situation with our teacher and our classmates. Lacking confidence, we need their appreciation and acceptance more than we want their sympathy or their help.
So we go through life assuming other people “can’t handle the truth” because we would not be able to handle it in their place.
Why be honest?
Basically, lying is too heavy to carry. When you lie, you sometimes have to continue weaving your false story later. This means that you have to keep track of your lies and that you stress over the risk of being discovered.
I have been through countless situations where people have told something other than the truth and it came to bite them later. As a very detail-oriented person, I can pick inconsistencies in a flash, and I am offended when I find that someone has lied to me. Unless you can be sure everybody will remain ignorant about the truth, you can lie safely, but how can you every be sure?
So lying is stressful.
Lying also influences your view of the world. When you lie about something over time, your version starts sounding like the truth to you. When you lie, you also always know that you are lying, which drops your self-esteem a little. If you lie enough, you may even start labeling yourself as a liar, and that is likely to prevent you from ever appreciating yourself fully.
So lying damages your self-esteem.
How to be honest
Being honest all the time and telling the truth about everything is not realistic. Kids, for example, cannot understand everything simply because they are too young and embellishing or watering down what we tell them may help them cope better than telling them brutal facts.
But we should all aspire to tell the truth as much as we can and make a conscious choice to be honest even in situations where it is not easiest. As long as our aim is to keep a good relationship and not to hurt anyone, honesty is generally a good idea.
So how to be honest? You can do it in a few steps, which are neither simple nor easy, but if you keep taking them, many things in your life will improve and you will start being honest as a matter of course.
- Recognize all your feelings, including the bad ones. We are often so preoccupied with positivity, we forget that fear, sadness and anger are natural and that ignoring or suppressing them only makes them worse. Being afraid does not make you weak, it just makes you human. Recognizing and facing your fear is the best way to be free of it. Feelings of grief and loss appear in everybody’s life and hurt a lot. Be aware of your feelings and give yourself time to recover.
- Feel comfortable with yourself. Accept yourself the way you are right now. Stand alone in front of a big mirror, relax and look yourself over from head to toe. Notice when you are critical of one of your features and learn to accept it instead. Do this 5 minutes a day for a week. Then, start smiling at yourself for 5 minutes a day over a week.
- When other people do or say things around you, recognize they are not doing or saying those things to you but for themselves. Look them over from head to toe and try to accept them too. Catch yourself when you start to feel defensive in other people’s presence, take a couple of deep breaths and reframe what happens from the other person’s point of view.
- Make a list of situations in which you are dishonest. Notice the stress associated with each situation and discover what you really feel about it. Use your new acceptance of yourself and your new ability to interpret other people’s behavior to find more honest ways to handle these stressful situations. This should help you relax greatly.
As your self-acceptance and self-confidence grow, you will be able to be gentle without lying, and that will increase your self-esteem even further. Once you reverse the cycle of lying and stress, your life will become easier and happier.