Lying comes easy to me. It’s almost like a reflex, the initial reaction is to lie. Even to a conversational question like “What are you up to?” we may lie and tell them we’re busy doing something important or about to do something productive or perhaps its the opposite, lie and say we weren’t doing anything when in fact we were in the middle of work. All of this is ego-driven. We want to seem important or seem flexible, it’s our image we are trying to protect. It’s this reflex we have built over time, years of lying, honing a skill that no one wants.
Just the other day I brushed off hanging with some friends because I was too lazy to do so. Instead of telling the truth, because that would hurt the ego, I told them it was too late, I was too tired, that I will see them some other time.
I used to never think about such lies. After I told them they were out of my head because I thought these lies to be harmless. This was my way of thinking until I read Lying by Sam Harris. This book brought a perspective change to the way I thought about lying and the importance of being truthful. Of course, I’ve always understood big lies to be bad, those lies that bring a level of shame and guilt after you have told them but the book helped me understand the harmful nature of what we call white lies as well.
There are three things I learned on the perspective of lying and what it means to tell a lie.
1. When we presume to lie for the benefit of others, we have decided that we are the best judges of how much they should understand about their own lives—about how they appear, their reputations, or their prospects in the world. This is an extraordinary stance to adopt toward other human beings, and it requires justification. Unless someone is suicidal or otherwise on the brink, deciding how much he can know about himself seems the quintessence of arrogance. What attitude could be more disrespectful of those we care about?
By withholding the truth from someone we feed our ego. We act superior under the guise of being helpful. There is a level of arrogance attached to our actions when we tell a lie in order to protect someone’s feelings or emotions.
2. Lying is the lifeblood of addiction.
This is so true. How many times have you cheated on your diet? Lying to yourself that it’s okay, you’ve earned it or that you’ll burn off the extra calories later. How many times have you said just one drink isn’t too bad? or procrastinated by promising yourself you’ll do something later instead of right now?
The lies you tell yourself in order to feel immediate gratification only strengthen the poor habits you are trying to break and those are the habits which are holding you back from being your best self. So this addiction to lying is holding you back. You become an addict by either lying to yourself and/or telling lies to others.
3. Think of all the opportunities for deepening love, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding that are forsaken by white lies.
Lying deprives you of honest communication. It is only through honest communication do our relationships with other people deepen. Often times we lie to save face, it’s an ego thing. By telling the truth, instead of lying, we allow the other person an opportunity to forgive you, to accept you despite your flaws and in doing so, build a stronger relationship.
As Sam Harris says:
Being honest is good to avoid long term problems but at the cost of short term discomfort.
Discomfort is the root of many human vices. We all want pleasure, we all want comfort, we want that immediate gratification but by seeking these things we put a limitation on the growth of our relationships and also our own personal growth.
It isn’t as easy as telling yourself to never lie again. Just simple reminder won’t work, it’s not the same as telling yourself to get milk before you go home. In order for you to be a truthful individual, you have to look into your habits and actions which lead you to lie. The process is a difficult one which requires a lot of self-reflection. You have the change as an individual. Just as lying can be reflexive, telling the truth must also come without a conscious effort to do so. Only then you become a truthful person.