― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I grew up believing that honesty is always the best policy. As an adult, though, I realized that was not true at all. I was raised in a family who were honest to a fault. Honesty can sometimes be brutal and often hurtful. And a lot of folks are simply dishonest with themselves. Raised to be completely honest, I was preyed upon by people who would use my honesty against me. And I was frightened and horrified by lies whenever I discovered them.
During my shamanic training I learned that lies are not evil nor necessarily harmful. I learned that the natural world is full of misrepresentation, illusions, and untruths. During my hypnosis training I realized that the truth is always ever subjective. I learned that we can go back and rewrite our history because truth is fluid. Ultimately, I realized that lying is not wrong, hurting people is wrong. If you’re lying in ways that hurt people that’s wrong. If you’re telling the truth in ways that hurt people, that is equally wrong.
I went on to raise my children with that understanding. I taught them to lie appropriately and well. It always makes me angry when I hear an adult berating a small child for lying. Adults lie all the time. Children see this quite plainly. We demand that our children lie to Grandma and say they loved her gift then we punish them for telling their version of an event if it seems outlandish. Even what seems like a tall tail by a child is probably closer to real truth than adults dare to think.
Rather than confuse the issue by labeling some lies “white” some “big” or “fat” and others “small” its best to simply accept lying as necessary and keep in mind not to hurt people. If you are already confused by labels and friendly well known sayings about honesty, if your lies are getting you in trouble or if you are just new at lying you should learn and understand the Four Rules of Lying.
Four Rules of Lying (adapted from Oprah Magazine, April 2014)
1. Always tell yourself the truth.
Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It can really undermine your existence if you allow yourself to live with too much of it. So always examine your life, your relationships and your choices honestly. If you make a mistake, admitting it to yourself keeps you from perpetuating the problem. Your most important relationship is the one with yourself. Lying to yourself makes it harder to really like or respect yourself …and it only goes downhill from there. Lying to yourself makes it hard to trust yourself and learning to trust yourself is what keeps you from being jerked around by other people’s lies.
2. Tell loved ones as much truth as you can.
Truth builds intimacy. It is the basis upon which we are able to form lasting heart to heart bonds. So share the truth to the degree that your want real lasting love relationships. Choose those relationships wisely. But realize that your relationships with your spouse, your children, your friends, and other loved ones WILL unravel and fall apart if you do not continually deepen the bonds by sharing your true thoughts, feelings, struggles and victories.
The truth becomes too much when it is hurtful and unsupportive, so please continue to tell loved ones that those jeans make their butt look GREAT – just be honest if the fly is open. These sorts of observations are the subjective, fluid sort of truth. The real truth is that if a person feels good about their looks, that’s all that really matters. Besides, its not just Sir Mix a Lot who thinks big is better.
3. Tell acquaintances enough truth to maintain connection.
Say you just walked out of a scathing review by your ogre boss when a colleague meets you in the hall and asks how it went. If you want to keep your relationship strictly business just say, “Fine.” If you want more of a friendship connection, tell the truth, “I’ve had colonoscopies that were more fun.” Then she can either respond with bonding, “I know what you mean! I was depressed for a week after mine.” or she can choose to keep distant, “Oh, gee! Sorry to hear that! Got to go!”
Some people like to keep their work lives and personal lives separate, and that’s fine. But if you are feeling a bit lonely or would like to make some less superficial connections at work, sharing your truth is the way to real connections. The way to do it is with a little truth at a time. Share a candid thought or feeling, see if your co-worker responds with the same. Then share a bit more. You can choose just how deep the connection goes by the depth of your honesty. And you can always backpedal with small talk if you decide they’re not bosom-buddy material.
Just try to avoid the common trap of connecting with co-workers over snarky comments. Sure, in a bad work situation it is easy to connect over a common obstacle, “Is this guy a dictator, or what?” But if the only “truth” you are sharing is negative comments or complaints, people are going to start avoiding you. Or you may end up buddying up to some “Frienemy” types who just want to spread juicy bits of news on the grapevine – including YOUR news!
4. To kill a relationship: lie.
Some people will use your truth against you. These are the people you want to lie to as a rule. If your co-worker known for stealing creative ideas asks you what you think of the new system, feel free to be vague or superficial. Or even make something up! If the boss uses people’s family problems as an excuse to pass them over for promotions, don’t mention your divorce OR your engagement.
When I was in a particularly cut throat pre-med program, I learned to add ten points to my score whenever classmates asked me my grade. Most people were either looking for a study buddy to leach off of or they were looking to make themselves feel good by putting others down. Its also a good idea to memorize a few replies to deflect probing personal questions from questionable people. If a colleague asks if you use botox, smile and reply “That’s funny, why do you ask?” If she’s a new friend looking for a personal recommendation, she will say so. If she can’t share her truth first, she’s not friend material.
Neither the truth nor lies are guaranteed to set you free. But understanding that personal truth is the currency with which we buy depth, trust, and respect in relationships CAN be very liberating. Use them both wisely and well.