September 21, 2009
When you hear the word “lie” what comes to mind?
“Lie” is a pretty harsh word that most of us have strong reactions to. I’ve been thinking a lot about lying recently especially since Congressman Joe Wilson yelled out “You lie” to President Obama a few weeks ago when the President was speaking to a joint session of Congress and to the nation about health care reform.
It has been fascinating to watch the reactions and commentary in the media, as well as to listen to people talk about this. Of course, so much of the reaction to this specific situation is politically motivated and based on our political views (or if we pay much attention to politics at all), our reactions may vary quite a bit.
From a personal perspective, however, I find it interesting that so many of us seem to have such strong reactions to people lying or being accused of lying, when all of us lie ourselves. Does President Obama lie? Of course. Does Joe Wilson lie? Yes. Do all politicians lie? Absolutely. But so do you, so do I, so do all of us.
While most of us don’t go around in life intentionally deceiving people, falsifying information, or blatantly making up stuff that isn’t true (although sometimes we do), on a daily basis you and I often say and do things that aren’t 100% honest, we withhold information, and we aren’t real with the people around us about some pretty important things (i.e. we lie).
I had a funny example of this a few months ago when my book, Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken, first came out. I was at a local Barnes and Noble and decided to pick up a copy of my own book and purchase it. Yes, I know, this may seem a little self absorbed, narcissist, and odd – but I wanted to “help and cause” the first week that the book was out. Because I was feeling a little awkward and insecure about doing this, I decided that I would just tell the person at the counter that I was, in fact, the author of this book and was buying it myself because I was excited that it had just come out.
As I got to the front of the line and put the book down on the counter, the woman looked at me and said, “Wow, we’ve been selling a lot of these today.” That made me happy to hear and got my ego all excited. Then she asked me a question I wasn’t expecting her to ask, “Did you see this guy on TV or something?” I had done a few local TV interviews that week, so her question wasn’t all that strange, but for some reason it befuddled me a bit. I responded by saying, “Um, no, well, he’s a local author; I just want to support him.” As this came out of my mouth, I remember thinking to myself, “What was that?” I couldn’t believe what I had just said. And, then it hit me, “Oh my God, I wrote a book on authenticity and just lied to this woman at Barnes and Noble.” I was so flustered by the whole thing, all I could manage to do was to pay for the book and rush out of the store. The irony of this was too funny, albeit a little sad and embarrassing.
This is often how it happens for us. In the heat of the moment of life, we say and do things that aren’t true to “save face,” not embarrass ourselves, or because we don’t want to upset or offend other people. Oftentimes we justify our own lying (and don’t even call it that or relate to it that way), deciding that it is better for us and other people that we not really tell the truth. Usually, even our most “thoughtful” justifications for not telling the truth are simply a smokescreen for the fact that we’re not willing to deal with the consequences of what we think (or worry) the other person’s reaction might be.
While I am not advocating that we say every single thing we think at every single moment we think it, there is a great deal of power and freedom available for us when we’re able to tell the truth in life, even to be able to tell the truth about the fact we sometimes lie.
It’s not as much a matter of lying being “bad” and telling the truth being “good,” it’s more an issue of impact. When we lie or withhold from the people around us, we end up hurting them and ourselves way more than when we tell the truth – even if the truth we have to speak may be upsetting for the person to hear initially. Most conflicts and issues in our relationships and with the people around us don’t stem from people being “brutally honest” with one another, they stem from us not being willing to tell the truth.
Lying is a part of our “shadow” and is not something many of us like to look at, deal with, or take responsibility for. However, as we’re able to start recognizing and owning our lies, we allow ourselves to be more real, free, and open to our authentic selves and to relationships filled with truth, trust, and respect.
Here are a few things to think about and practice as it relates to lying:
- Take inventory. Notice some of the situations and relationships in your life where you aren’t telling the truth. Where are you withholding important information, opinions, feelings, and more? Where are you not being straight-forward and upfront about what is true for you? See if you can get in touch with this, without judging yourself for it. In other words, tell the truth about where you’re lying, but do so with some empathy.
- Understand. Ask yourself why you’re not telling the truth in these situations; not from a judgmental perspective, but from a place of vulnerability and curiosity. What are you afraid of? What do you think would happen if you did admit, own up to, or confess how you really felt? Get in touch with these justifications, as well as the impact on you and the other people involved. The more deeply you can understand your reasons and can experience the cost, the more likely you are to create positive change.
- Address. What are you willing to do to deal with these situations and relationships? You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to of course. But, if there are important places in your life where you aren’t telling the truth (which is the case for almost all of us), you are giving away some of your precious power and attention by not telling the truth. See if you can challenge yourself to address these situations, own up to what’s been going on, and tell the truth (even if you’re scared). This is not easy stuff, but when we’re willing to deal with things directly we’re always more empowered than when we avoid, deny, or deceive ourselves and others.
Have a lot of compassion for yourself as you look at, understand, and address this stuff – it can be dicey and uncomfortable. And, when we’re willing to tell the whole truth, first and foremost to ourselves, and then to the people around us, we can tap into the power of the famous saying, “the truth will set you free.”
Also, remember to not take yourself or any of these situations in your life too seriously. As Emily Sailors of the Indigo Girls reminds us in her wonderful quote, “You have to laugh at yourself, because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.” Have fun and be real – you’re not a “bad” person because you lie, you’re just human, like me and everyone else. Being able to acknowledge our lies and do something about them can be one of the greatest ways for us to deepen our ability to be real, honest, and open in life.
Where in your life are you lying right now? What can you do to tell the truth about this and deal with it in a more honest way? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.
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