We are all guilty of being dishonest. We lie about our age, weight, or why we are late. Some cheat on their taxes, others on their spouses. Some embellish their experience and education on their resumes. Deceiving others is so common in our culture that many assume it to be acceptable. We even use the term “white lie” to excuse minor falsehoods we deem unimportant.
Educated as a structural engineer, I learned that the most important aspect of building a house is to construct a solid foundation. No matter how strong you make the structure, a house will not stand for long if built on a foundation of shallow sand. We can say the same for relationships. To be successful, they must rest on a foundation of mutual trust. If we created them on falsehood and deceit, they will collapse.
Is there good reason to hide the truth from others?
Many argue there is reason to lie. Lying can help convince a prospective boss you meet all the qualifications for the job you want.
Fudging your age can make people imagine you are younger so it can help you date an unsuspecting younger person. The list of justifications goes on. Eventually, the truth finds the light of day. This will cause the relationship’s foundation to wash away and the structure to collapse.
We teach our kids to lie
We manipulate our children. One obvious example is how we tell them to behave if they want Santa Claus to bring Christmas presents. Other examples are; we might hide from them the real reason we lost our job, or why we divorced, or that grandpa is an alcoholic.
It was easy for me to justify withholding the truth from my children when they were small. I considered it a matter of being conscious of what their young minds could process. But I didn’t realize that making up excuses was something they saw through at some internal level. They knew when their mother and I were lying to them.
Speaking truth to our children
While you can overwhelm a child with details they don’t understand, speaking the truth to your kids is still immensely important. There is no point, for example, describing why you got laid off because your boss was an asshole, took all the credit for your ideas but then stabbed you in the back to your superiors. Sharing these adult details with your children is like telling them how to make the watch when all they wanted to know was the time.
Children need assurance that adults will take care of their problems. In the aforementioned incident of getting laid off, you can tell them you are out of a job because the company didn’t need you anymore and then assure them that everything will be ok.
Why do we lie?
Lying is of the ego, we use it to manipulate the opinion others have about us. I try to always be truthful, but I sometimes embellish stories to get the admiration of others. This comes from a fear that I am deficient and people will reject, ridicule or scorn me if they see the true me.
For many of us, lying is about believing we are not worthy of love and admiration. We see our shortcomings and believe people will reject us if they discover them.
But seeing yourself as unworthy is a dangerous illusion. Unfortunately, few of our mentors taught us to view ourselves as unique beings with value and purpose. Many taught us what they learned, to conform to the opinions and rules of our society.
Ways that we lie
We have become used to falsehoods as a society, so lying can take many forms. Here are a few.
1) White lies.
These are the “acceptable” lies we tell others. For example, it was traffic that made us late, no need to tell others about our bad habit of leaving everything to the last minute.
These are the lies we spread about others. The juicier the lie, the more it tempts us to spread it even though we have no proof of its veracity.
We exaggerate our work experience, a life story and/or our talents to create a greater picture of ourselves in the minds of others.
This kind of lie we attribute to politicians who need to obfuscate their position on issues to attract more voters from all sides of the political spectrum. We call this good politics, even though we know the undercurrent of deceit behind it. Politicians are not alone in this, we spin our beliefs to make them sound more acceptable to others, especially by those who disagree with us.
5) Discrediting and criticizing others.
This is a great tool to devalue the contribution others make, especially if we are jealous or threatened by them. I see this in the workplace between rivals as they try to maneuver into favorable positions in the eyes of their superiors. However, this is not limited to the workplace, it can happen between friends and family members.
6) The lies we tell ourselves.
This is by far our worst form of lying. We tell ourselves lies to justify our actions. We use them to hide our malice with an acceptable explanation. We tell ourselves lies to rationalize our desire to tell white lies, engage in rumors, exaggerate stories, spin and discredit or criticize others.
We all have our own lie detector, even our kids
Everyone knows at some level when someone is lying. However, we accept their lies because we don’t want to accept that a person we are fond of is not who we think they are. This can happen with a romantic partner, a boss, a parent, a sibling and a friend. When I think back on how many times I discovered the actual truth behind a lie someone was telling me, I realize I had known all along I was being led by a lie.
Even the youngest of children can tell when someone is lying to them, but it doesn’t appear to them as a lie, they experience it as an insecurity or as anxiety.
To be truthful may be hard, but it is by far your best option. Even the smallest lie casts doubt on your credibility. Lies are like the waves that wash away the sand and cause your castle to collapse.