Updated: Mar 13, 2020
Lie: "An intentionally false statement;" "Used with reference to a situation involving deception or founded on a mistaken impression." --Oxford Dictionary
Your hair is so cute. I love that outfit. I won't be late. Best friends forever. I'm currently in between jobs. I'm OK. You're the only person I'm dating. I will never cheat on you. I love you.
Everyone lies. Or, so the adage states. Psychologists have conducted studies showing that children as young as 3 years old lie.
Whether it’s the so-called innocuous “white lie—” telling your friend you like her outfit when you actually don’t— or a “major” lie—cheating on your spouse and then denying it—we all have told a lie or otherwise been deceptive. In fact, I’d venture to suppose that the vast majority of us lie every single day. I’ll even take it a step further and suppose that the majority of that group engages in “major” lies or otherwise deceptive behavior a majority of the time (as opposed to engaging in “white lies.”)
We lie to ourselves, friends, family, co-workers, employers, employees, colleagues, and complete strangers. We lie on our taxes, job applications, credit applications, social media, hell, some of us even lie in our diaries/journals.
Clearly, the question is not whether we lie. The question is not even should we lie. Lying is a choice, not an obligation. The main question, then, is: Why do we choose to lie? Considering that 3-year-old children lie without prompting, do we have an innate understanding that lying is necessary to our existence or survival as humans? Is there something heretofore not consciously understood about the human condition that predisposes us to lying and behaving deceptively? Simply put: Do we need to lie?
What would happen if we stopped lying and deceiving and began telling the unadulterated truth?
Calm down! Please don’t panic! Movies, television, and books have oft presented this concept one way: Person X cannot tell a lie, has no filter or inhibitions, and has diarrhea of the mouth. So that unadulterated truth plays out like this—
Becky: “Good morning, John.”
John: “Good morning, Becky. Your breath is foul, your husband is cheating on you, and no one in
the office likes you. Have a pleasant day.”
This is not what I mean or intend by positing that we all stop lying and behaving deceptively and begin telling the unadulterated truth. Silence is not a lie. Truth can be kind. Unadulterated truth is not antagonistic to discretion. It is not a lie if I see someone wearing a shirt I don’t like and I keep that opinion to myself. I can tell my co-worker that he has bad breath without humiliating or disrespecting him. If my friend asks me what I think of her new boyfriend (whom I despise), it is not dishonest or deceptive for me to tell her the qualities in him I find displeasing or problematic without stating that I despise him.
We are so used to and inoculated by and with lies and deception that we oft represent the truth as rude, offensive, and disrespectful (hence the above-mentioned television, movie, and book scenarios). We have thoroughly convinced ourselves that it is “polite” and therefore better to tell a friend, loved one, or even a stranger a lie if we for any reason believe or think the truth might hurt.
The truth only hurts when we’ve been previously convinced of a lie. The truth is only rude because lying is the status quo. The truth is only offensive when you’d rather believe the lie.
Lying is initially effortless because it is a habit. The truth, initially, is difficult because it is an unfamiliar landscape. However, subsequently, we spend a great deal of energy and effort maintaining and supporting that lie. You must keep track of the lie, who you told it to, when you told it, whether you told someone else a different version of the lie, and the truth. Whereas, because the truth just is what it is, once it’s out there, you’re free. There’s no attendant juggling act to maintain.
We have assured ourselves that at least a “little white lie” is necessary every now and again to save face, relationships, and apparently, to keep the world spinning. But, if we didn’t tell that first lie how would face, relationships, or the world be in jeopardy from the truth? Lying and behaving deceptively are choices. Telling the truth and practicing honesty are choices. Whichever you choose, there are consequences. Choose wisely.
 Lewis, M., Stanger, C., Sullivan, M. “Deception in 3-Year-Olds.” Developmental Psychology. 1989; 25: 439-443; Talwar, V., Lee, K. “Development of Lying to Conceal Transgression: Children’s Control of Expressive Behavior During Verbal Deception.” International Journal of Behavioral Development. 2002; 26: 436-444.