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The lie we believe about lying

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Calah Alexander - published on 09/25/18

Most of us are reluctant to tell the truth because of an unfounded fear ...

When I was 9, I had a lying problem. I wasn’t a compulsive liar — I didn’t lie for no reason or anything. But I did lie to avoid getting into trouble, and I lied a lot. My thought process behind lying about things I’d done (or not done) was as logically comprehensive as you would expect a 9-year-old’s to be: I believed that as long as I stuck to my guns, no one would ever be able to prove that I was lying.

As you can imagine, my parents were not fooled. My mom could always tell when I was lying and she was dogged in pulling the truth out of me. I never got away with my lies, but for some reason I kept trying.

Finally, my parents had had enough. They told me if I lied about one more thing, I would lose the privilege of my 10th birthday party — a particularly special party where I was allowed to bring six friends with me for a day at Six Flags.

I knew they meant it. My parents didn’t issue threats idly. And yet, later that week I did something I wasn’t supposed to do, and when my mom called me on it I panicked. And lied.

I’m not alone in experiencing the anxiety that comes with truth-telling. Although we tend to value honesty as a society, most of us are surprisingly reluctant to practice it, according to Thrive Global:

Honest conversations in our personal lives are often called “the hard conversations,” and we feel the burden of that difficulty much of the time — we often end up choosing easy, superficial comments over delving deep into real thoughts and emotions with friends, lovers, and coworkers alike. But according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, our fears about opening up and choosing honesty are usually unfounded. The study examined expected and real consequences associated with two kinds of honesty: disclosing personal information and giving negative feedback. What the study found is that not only did the person on the receiving end of honesty react in a less negative way than expected, the act of being honest was also a more positive experience than anticipated. Throughout the experiment, participants found engaging in honest conversations to be socially connecting. The crux of our misunderstanding, the researchers explained, is that we anticipate negativity where there largely isn’t any.

I certainly anticipated negativity as a child, and for the most part that wasn’t an unfounded anticipation. I was usually lying to get out of trouble, but what I didn’t grasp was that the trouble would have been a million times less had I simply told the truth and accepted the consequences.

I lost my birthday party that year. That one consequence affected me so deeply that I rarely lied to my parents again. I was always honest, both with my parents and with friends — sometimes even too honest.

But what I’ve always found, my whole life, is that the negative consequences from the few times I’ve lied are a thousand times worse than any negative consequences that come from honesty. Honesty can sometimes hurt, but it doesn’t destroy trust or shatter a friendship. Lies destroy trust. Lies shatter relationships.

Honesty is a form of virtue because it’s compassionate. Being honest with someone, even when it hurts, is a way of showing them that you care enough about them to give them the truth, no matter what the consequences are. And the truth is, those consequences are never as bad as the fallout from choosing a lie.


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Read more:
This simple technique can help you get things done, and grow in virtue while you’re at it

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ParentingPersonal Growth
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