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.
I have mixed feelings about this. I remember someone once said, wisely, I think, that sometimes we have to present an idea in such a way as to build a space for ourselves to function. I distinctly remember my very demanding father being extremely angry at me that I was not a math genius and there were unreasonable punishments that followed unreasonable expectations. Therefore, when he would ask me how I was doing in math, as a little girl, I would fib and tell him I was doing better than I did. It was self-preservation. He really should not have been so harsh (it was ignorance) and technically, I should have been more truthful, but had I been so, I would have been punished unfairly for my age. With patience, he could have helped me be better at math and lessened my fear and the pressure to avoid punishment. In that case, I think shading the actual facts was warranted. So, this is complex. Or telling an ailing friend they look well, when they don’t look all that great, to encourage them. After all, a lot is subjective, so sometimes the truth is not static or fixed, it is in the interpretation of a situation.
But clearly, it is important to be honest, in the overall sense of that concept and as Jesus meant us to be, especially with our Heavenly Father.
I’ve been there too Beth – lying to protect myself against a harsh demanding father. As children, we had limitations. As adults, we become self-aware and develop discernment and self-control. We make choices, are more open in some relationships than others. I think it’s more respectful to be truthful, but we should make a point of looking for positive things in people. If you don’t have anything nice to say then keep quiet is preferable to the little white lie. “It’s a nice outfit but you’d look better in an A-line skirt instead of the ruffles”, rather than, “No, that outfit doesn’t make you look fat”. Often it’s a matter of self-control. We tell kids, God gave you 2 ears and 1 mouth so listen more than you talk. Some situations are more difficult – like the sick friend, or when we need to protect ourselves. It’s like any exercise – takes time and practice, learning from mistakes.