On a hot and humid summer morning as I’m driving to work, I end up stuck in traffic on the ever-busy interstate 435. My mind begins to wander about as it always does with thoughts about how my work day will unfold. A thought of a meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. with a client at work comes to my head. Immediately my mind starts to conjure up a series of lies I must tell this client to keep them at ease and maintain their business. I take full comfort knowing that my lies are minor, not fraudulent or damning, but still my words are a series of untruths. I then take a pause for just a second to ask myself: Why do I need to lie to this client, and why am I always putting myself in a position to tell untruths to those I come in contact with?
Searching for answers with traffic now at a full stand still, my mind immediately takes me back to when I was about 8 years old. It’s another morning, mom’s getting ready to wake me up for school and there I am, lying in a wet bed in a pool of pee. I’ve wet the bed again. My mom has a look of disappointment and her eyes communicate to me her frustration that her 8-year-old son has wet the bed again. Not wanting to disappoint my mother in the future, I make a promise to myself, not to stop wetting the bed but to avoid having my mother see me lying in a pool of mess every morning. From that day on, I begin to conceal any evidence of a wet bed. I start to wake up earlier than mom, change out of the wet clothes, scrub stains on the bed with towels, change the sheets, use air freshener, I pull out all of the stops. All in the name of not wanting to see my mother get disappointed with my “wet bandit” ways.
Initially, my strategy works, Mom is proud that I have overcome this childhood challenge. But after a few days, Mom notices that all I am doing is covering up my tracks. So while the truth eventually comes out, this moment reveals to me at the tender age of eight that there are short-term payoffs when one lies or conceals the truth, and that sticks with me. I see the short-term benefit of lying as a useful tool.
So throughout my childhood days, I begin to learn that small white lies do have short-term gains. The gains being that the people we lie to get to hear what they want to hear with no regard for the truth. The art of lying continues to develop throughout my teenage years, and then into young adulthood. The art of lying to friends about movies I’ve seen (but actually haven’t), or lying to girls about my true intentions while courting them, or adding a few exaggerations on my resume become the norm. Telling somebody they look great when I think otherwise is standard practice.
So this then begs the question, who’s at fault at setting these norms for one to lie? The boy who does not want to disappoint his mother or the parent who simply can’t handle the truth/disappointment? I say, lies grow in an environment that only perpetuates and rewards deceit. For example, we can all agree that no man/woman is perfect, so why do we spend our lives looking for a perfect partner/spouse? Why don’t spouses embrace each other’s flaws rather than spend time concealing their authentic selves? Why do employers post jobs and conduct interviews in a manner that leaves no room for one to share and explore their weaknesses and blind spots? And why is all social media designed to enable people to only present their best foot forward? We’ve even come to expect that our political leaders and the media create narratives that are false. Even the so called reality TV is not reality, but we have come to accept it as such. Something in ALL of us is broken.
It seems to me that people—and more so society—is geared toward seeking perfection from imperfect beings, and ultimately all of us pay the penalty.
So what’s the solution? Well, here it is for me: I’ve come to the realization that I must commit not only to telling the truth, but more importantly—be it with friends, coworkers or my family—I should take the lead in creating an environment that allows myself and others to showcase our flaws, weakness, failings, etc. Our authentic self is layered with imperfection, so why lie? Commitment to truth is one thing, but embracing our flaws is another. In short, stop creating expectations that people cannot meet. Moreover, keeping up with the Jones’ is a futile life strategy. You have one shot at this thing we call life, so why bother trying to live through other people’s expectations?
While this article is not meant to answer every question about honesty, it’s my sincere hope that you (the reader) acknowledge that no one on this earth is without flaw and that the worst thing you can do is allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. I suggest reading Sam Harris’s book titled Lying as a good first step to fully examine why you and I lie.
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