Dammit! I lied again. It wasn’t a very big lie, just a small itty bitty white lie. Why do I do that? “Why do I lie?”, I ask myself over and over again, usually immediately after I tell one. The answer is simple, really. We are trained to lie since birth. There are many aspects of our culture that are built on lies, and we blindly continue these lies to be a part of these cultures. The truth is that honest people are not well liked because they say what they mean and mean what they say and that can be uncomfortable (Another reason is some peoples’ truth oppose other peoples’ truth). Here is why we lie.
- Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Cupid are big liars. The underlying concept of selfless generosity and love are foundational aspects of a successful life, but we have a bad habit of personifying and merchandising everything. We get our kids hooked on Santa Claus heroin and then traumatize them when they find out one day that they have to perpetuate the lie and play Santa Claus themselves. Wouldn’t it be easier just to teach our kids to be selfless, generous and loving? Unfortunately, the truth would probably bankrupt Hallmark Cards, Toy R’Us, and a dozen other huge retailers that depend on holiday spending.
- The tax man cometh. If you ever sat at the dinner table and heard your parents talk about what they did or did not report on their tax returns, you know what I am talking about. It seems that many people view income taxes as an opportunity to see just how big a lie they can tell about their income. Inflated expenses, unreported income, back dating stuff is all fair game. It is the game the whole family can play.
- I am fine. We tell this lie all of the time. No one is “fine”. If someone tells you this, call “bullshit”. Make them use another word. “Fine” is a word that we use when we don’t want to talk about how we are feeling. If you dig deeper you may regret it, but at least you will get to the truth. We started using it when we were young to get our parents to leave us alone. We may have seen our parents tell other adults they were fine and you knew your parents were struggling. “Fine” is a word that is a red flag that means something else is going on. Whenever I was sick my parents would take me to the doctor and I would usually get a shot of penicillin. It hurt. So I learned to say I was “fine” when I was sick so I wouldn’t have to get a shot.
- I love you. We tell this lie all of the time. The truth is we don’t feel love all of the time. We say “I love you” for many reasons that have nothing to do with love. We manipulate people to do what we want. We say “I love you” to excuse our behavior. We say it when we don’t want to admit that maybe we don’t feel loving in the moment. I can remember my father taking off his belt to beat me and he said “I love you and this is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you.” I replied “I don’t think so.” Sometimes love is overridden by other emotions like fear, anger, jealousy, guilt or regret. If we were honest we would say “I love you; however, I am feeling _____ right now.”
- Honestly officer I didn’t know I was speeding. If you ever saw your parents get pulled over it is certain that you heard someone tell a lie. It is almost a reflex action to say something to avoid getting a ticket. Let me tell you a secret, don’t say “To be honest” or “Truthfully” because police officers are trained to know that whatever you say next is a lie. The biggest lie of all is “I only had two drinks!” One of the most powerful motivators to lie is to avoid punishment.
- I don’t know. We learn this lie very early in life to avoid punishment. Treasured objects don’t fly off the shelves by themselves and windows don’t shatter from shifts in gravity. I remember when my email account was suspended because my eight-year-old son was using inappropriate language online. I confronted him with it and asked him if he knew why my account would have been suspended for inappropriate language. Of course he said he didn’t know. When I punished him, I made it clear that if he had told the truth he would not have been punished. If someone tells you that they don’t know, they are probably lying.
- Sport lying. Let’s face it, there is a thrill in finding out how much you can get away with. It is a bit of a game. I believe that many religions are based on the fundamental principle of finding out how much you can get away with and still go to heaven. We say we are sick to get out of going to school or work. We steal office supplies. Hangovers become the flu.
It is important for us to teach our children that the truth is always better than lying. Not only do we have tell the truth, we have to behave honestly. That includes our inner child. It is our immaturity that leads us to lying, adults don’t need to lie. Lying only increases our suffering because it is an attempt to avoid responsibility. It is always better to accept responsibility for our behavior; it is the only way to grow up.
Reprinted from The Elephant Journal