How much do you really know about honesty, truth, and lies?
To lie is to intentionally say something that isn’t true, whether you do it leaving out the truth, or by saying something that you know is untrue. Do you understand how lies work? Do you really know how much you lie yourself? What about the ways the lies in your life influence you? Let’s take a journey for a moment, and seek to learn more about the TRUTH behind lying.
Let’s begin by dividing lying up into a few basic types. First, there are the “white lies” that people tell each other to grease the wheels of society. These likes are things like saying, “I’m doing fine,” when someone asks how you are, even when you’re really not. The distinguishing fact about this kind of lie is that it doesn’t contain any REAL deception. Between strangers, these little lies exist to help make it easier to relate with people.
But already, these so-called “insignificant” white lies could already be segmented into different sizes, depending on their significance. For example, the same white lie is much more significant if the other person is looking for a real answer, because you matter to him or her, or if there is something important going on that you fail to tell. So even these white lies can sometimes be damaging. We’ll talk some more about that in a moment.
Most people don’t even realize how often they use these kinds of lies. How many times do you lie on a daily basis? Have you ever counted? You might be surprised by the results if you did. A very interesting study by Dr. Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. in Psychology, indicated that among the 147 people studied, there were 1535 lies told over a week, and people lied to about a third of everyone they interacted with in that time. This comes out to an average of one or two lies per day and 365 to 700 lies per year. Lies add up quickly over time and with the number of people. Where do you stand on that scale?
Next, let’s look at some lies that are a little more deceptive. When your friend asks if they look good in their new jeans, and you say “Yes,” even when it’s not true, you probably feel like it’s one of those little white lies, but it’s already a more significant one. You’re only saying it to make your friend feel good, which seems like a pretty fine reason, from the start.
What you DON’T realize is the potential chain events and vicious circle that this lie can create. Let’s zoom in and let’s pick one frequently encountered kind of situation that could come next. Suppose you just finished your white lie, and someone else comes up to your friend, who asks them the same question. And the other person tells the truth, “Sorry but these jeans don’t suit you at all.” Now your friend will just use your answer, the more attractive one, and will question the truth. Then, what do you do? Do you stand by your lie by telling more or do you recognize it. Maybe you lie that you didn’t get a good look. Often in a white lie, when someone new tells the truth, we feel awkward and everyone else feels it too. Even if they ask someone else an hour later and get an honest answer, they could come back to you.
Of course if there really is a problem with the way the jeans fit, you can imagine the kind of consequences it could have for your friend. You see, even with a white lie like this, you can end up embarrassing, potentially humiliating, and alienating someone you care about.
The truth is, even the SMALLEST lies can damage the lives of people you love and care about, even if you tell them with the very best intentions. And they can damage YOUR life too. Imagine now another situation in which your friend just goes out with the jeans on. What happens when your friend comes back, having been made the subject of jokes or humiliation by strangers, who didn’t value her feelings as much as you did. Your friend is going to feel hurt, and angry that you didn’t tell the truth, and it’s going to degrade your relationship.
That’s why there’s a thing called tact. Tact is an the art of delivering the truth in a way that is diplomatic, and spares the feelings of the people involved, even when the truth is hurtful. Isaac Newton described it by saying that “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” Tact serves as the more positive alternative to this kind of dishonesty. Tact is actually a form of kind honesty. How much do you know about being tactful? Do you practice the art of being diplomatically honest?
Let’s look a little closer at the way lies can damage your life.
First of all, they can definitely damage your relationships, especially if they are more deceitful and manipulative than the example already given. Secondly, lying can act as a sort of gateway into moral and ethical decay, and sometimes lead to serious crimes that result in jail time or worse. If you don’t believe it, all you have to do is look to the news. All the time, you can see successful, famous people fall because of what started as just a small lie. Are you letting lies corrupt your life? Are they enticing you to greater lies? To find out is very simple: are there already some uncovered lies that you told that you wouldn’t want anybody in your life to know? If so, there is a strong chance you would lie more about them until you get stuck and have to confess.
Perhaps the next thing to consider is the other side of the coin, when YOU’RE the one who is being lied to. In an environment where everyone is lying about little things, and a lot of people and a lot of sources are lying about BIG things, how do you tell whether you can trust someone? How do you know when someone is telling the truth? What are the signs that you’re being manipulated by someone else?
The first place to look might be in something called micro-expressions. Micro-expressions are flashes of your true feelings that happen almost instantly when you tell a lie. Dr. Paul Eckman is the pioneer of micro-expression and lie-detecting research, and he has developed a system for codifying these expressions. If you know what to look out for, you can use micro-expressions to detect when someone is lying. This isn’t a simple “lie/truth” process though, and involves a little interpretation. For example, if someone tries to convince you to accept a gift from them, but they flash a micro-expression of contempt, it’s a pretty safe bet that their gift won’t be something pleasant. How much do you know about micro-expressions? Can you recognize them when they occur? Do you know how to interpret them? Can you use them to detect lies? Do you know if you can always spot a liar if you were trained to recognize them? We’ll answer that in another upcoming article.
At the end of the day, most people don’t actually know very much about the way truth and lies actually work in their life, or in their minds. Most people are perfectly happy to rationalize the lies they tell, and move on. Most people aren’t clear enough or tactful enough when they’re telling the truth. But with all the damage lies can actually do to a person, and to the people around them, it pays to be curious, and want to learn more. In the next few days, we’re going to release a couple of self-discovery articles and questions.
Our Honesty awareness campaign is a great place to start. Why not check it out, and see the benefits for yourself? We guarantee that if you actually read and answer them truthfully, you could learn a lot and get a much clearer picture of where you stand on truth and lies, how to talk to people more effectively and more honestly, and to be more truthful with yourself too. It could change your life and other people’s lives around you.
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This article was written by Arlo Horner and Thierry Koehrlen was co-author & content director