Are you an honest person? I like to think I am, and you probably do, too. How then do we account for the statistic – presented by Robert S. Feldman, PhD, author of “The Liar in Your Life” – that maintains that, in a 10 minute conversation, the average person tells 3.3 lies, that’s roughly one per minute. As he explains on his website www.robertfeldman.org, “Most often, the lies we are exposed to are not venal, but rather ways to make social interactions proceed more smoothly. People lie to be agreeable or to make us feel better about ourselves. Of course, people also lie to build themselves up or to gain some advantage over us. And many of us lie to ourselves as much as we are lied to by others”.
My small group is studying the book “The Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith, which is based on Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, or the Beatitudes, as they are often called. We read a chapter a week, do the Soul Training exercise for that week, then talk over our experiences and thoughts. The chapter for last week’s reading talked about lying. The Soul Training Exercise was a choice to either (1) go 24 hours without speaking or communicating at all (no emails or texts either) or (2) go 24 hours without telling a lie.
Two of us live alone so we went 24 hours without communicating with anyone. The others tried to go lie-free. Each one of us was surprised at our tendency to speak ‘little white lies’ without really thinking about it. Many people consider it an acceptable practice. And many of us tend to lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, to avoid confrontation, or to make life comfortable for ourselves.
In our discussion, we talked about how it’s less the actual lies we tell than what telling them does to our souls and to the people we’re in relationship with. Jesus holds us to a very high standard. He teaches that if a man lusts after a woman in his heart, he has already committed adultery. The point is, an action is preceded by a thought, so we must be honest with ourselves and mindful. Think about what you’re thinking about, as John Maxwell puts it.
There are people who wield honesty as a weapon; to them, truth and anger commingle. “I won’t lie behind your back, I’ll tell you to your face”. Yes, it’s honest. But is it a good thing to do? I have a friend who grew up with a lot of anger and accusations, and her response has been to ‘kill with kindness’ – in other words, be nice no matter what. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us. It’s not easy to do but it’s important to try. Otherwise, we become entrenched in the casual acceptance of lying as a social lubricant to ease communication.
As an introvert, I don’t talk much but I think constantly. A lot goes on in my mind that never gets spoken. It is possible for me to lie, argue, criticize and condemn without ever saying a word. Harkens back to Jesus’ words, not saying it out loud doesn’t mean it’s not hurtful, to myself as well as whoever is the object of my negative emotions.
My goal is to be more mindful of this, to think about what I’m thinking about. And to learn when to ‘speak the truth in love’ and when to hold my tongue. Wisdom and discernment are gifts that I pray for regularly – for myself and others.