For 23 years I have made the same stupid mistake again and again. I lied. Even though most of it was white-lies, I had no idea how badly this was influencing my life.
One thing that was bugging me for a long time was how a lack of integrity impacts our life in weird ways. Politicians, bankers and other soulless people obviously cannot be trusted because of their complete lack of integrity. But even if you don’t lie on TV every day, there’s a good chance that your life quality is suffering because of the exact same thing.
In September 2011, neuroscientist and author of several eye-opening books, Sam Harriss, made the insight about integrity very, very clear to me. Lying is deleterious and I had to stop.
Why would you stop lying?
In his excellent essay, Sam argues that lying, even of the most innocent type, always has a negative impact on the quality of your life (and/or others). As he so elegantly puts it:
“Lies are the social equivalent of toxic waste - everyone is potentially harmed by their spread.”
If you overhear a friend lying on the phone because he doesn’t want to go to some stupid dinner party, what will you think the next time he/she declines your invitation with an excuse? Even though it seems harmless, this single lie can have a undermining impact on the trust that is part of your friendship.
“Failures of integrity, once revealed, are rarely forgotten
To lie, when asked for an opinion, can also be extremely disrespectful and even damaging. Before you encourage your talentless child or friend to enroll in a reality show, please at least spend 5 seconds to consider what abusive and depressing impact it’s going to have when the person gets fried on national television.
“False encouragement is a kind of theft: it steals time, energy, and motivation a person could put toward some other purpose”
If you want to be supportive as a friend, you should focus less on being encouraging and more on being truthful.
A dedication never to lie and the unexpected implications
After reading Sam Harriss’ essay I was inspired in such a way, that I decided never to lie again. Like everyone else, I occasionally lied to help me on my way. It has not been more than a couple of months and the transformation is astonishing.
One effect I felt very quickly was a strengthened self-confidence. When I talk to people I get a calming feeling from knowing that I don’t have to lie, all I have to do is be myself. My improved integrity forms as a positive feedback loop, helping me easier bond with people and to establish transformative relationships.
“Vulnerability comes in pretending to be someone you are not”
Additionally, I now know that my view on things is often the most valuable around. Why? Because unlike most other people, I don’t just talk crap to avoid uncomfortable answers or appear more interesting.
This is huge. People intuitively appreciate honest answers, and If you have a history of being honest, your praise and encouragement will actually mean something. Some people will not appreciate this. If this means that they don’t return to get your opinion another time, it is not the kind of people you want to connect with anyway.
Honesty is a prerequisite for building meaningful relationships, so no matter how much you disagree with someone, you know you are doing all you can to help the person and support a transformative relationship, just by being honest. Honest about what you think, but also honest about the stuff you don’t know.
Another thing I realized, is that lying might be a smart short-term solution to many difficult situations, but a dedication not to lie forces you to try to avoid these situations entirely.
I feel a short-term discomfort in declining to do stuff I don’t enjoy, but I know that the decision is going to pay off long-term. This might be difficult for you in the beginning. As Sam puts it:
“.. it can take practice to feel comfortable with this way of being in the world - to cancel plans, decline invitations, critique others’ work, etc. all while being honest about what one is thinking and feeling. To do this is also to hold a mirror up to one’s life - because a commitment to telling the truth requires that one pay attention to what the truth is in every moment. ”
Lastly, even though I don’t have a history as an all-time liar, it feels good to earn back the energy you would otherwise spend doing lie-accounting
“One of the great problems for the liar is that he must keep track of his lies.”
A decision to never lie is like deciding never to drink your own piss. Don’t hold off from doing it because people tell you it’s morally incorrect. Do it for the life quality increase you get if you dismiss the temptation to do so.
I beg you. Please read Lying by Sam Harriss. It’s only 26 pages and the effect is life-changing.
Also don’t drink your own urine.
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