That question is loaded. If it is the best policy, then why do we lie. I lie. We all lie. I’m almost confident that we all lie or have lied. Humans are imperfect and lying is a part of that imperfection.
I have lied. In fact, I lied a lot when I was a teenager, a university student and a young adult. And today, what’s my track record? – it’s getting better. I lie a lot less. Not because I found this to be the best policy in all situations – but because I’ve started to dig a little deeper and be a little bit more honest with myself. The more honest I am with myself, the less I have to lie to people.
When you’re a young, it seems like an experiment. To see what you can get away with. I think we learn to lie when we catch our parents (or primary caregivers) in one and see that they got away with it. We see that isn’t so bad to lie and that there aren’t bad consequences (if not caught) and there actually can be good consequences (like making someone feel better). When puberty hit, I got better at crafting them.
Somewhere along the line, we hopefully get straightened out – usually by facing a bad consequence. Good consequence – making my friend feel better about her latest jean purchase. Bad consequence – running into the person that you told you were too busy that night to go out. And there are worse consequences.
So, we adjust our lies. Is that the lesson we learn? Lie to protect, spare someone negative feelings. When the end justifies the means? Don’t lie on the really important stuff – like your resume (CV)? But isn’t it all important stuff. Telling your friend she looks good in a dress when her breasts are about to pop out or the fact her underwear can be seen – is that justifiable?
If you had asked me a few years ago is honesty the best policy – I would have answered a really loud – NO, NON, NEE, NIN!
Because until recently, some of the lies I’ve told have spared me a lot of pain, grief, anger and agony. Sparing myself these emotions hasn’t made be any happier, jollier or grateful btw.
Probably, the most consistent lie I have told many of my friends is that I have a great relationship with my parents. That is the biggest, ugliest lie to date. And the longest running one. And this is a very hard lie to keep up. I have had to create more lies to cover up the original and it is exhausting.
Why? It wasn’t that I went out and started to tell the lie from Day One. I learned that telling the truth – I have an unhealthy relationship with them – brought severe judgment from my friends and people I dearly loved. It was a very painful experience – telling the truth. It felt like a knife was stabbed into my heart – the physical hurt was unbearable.
I needed to survive, as I went out into the world (leaving my parents home). Survival not only on paying my rent but also emotional pain. Lying was such an easy solution. It spared me the moments of utter shame. I could at least walk away breathing.
It took me a while (recovery process) to see what I was doing to myself. I was lying so people wouldn’t see my imperfections. The severe judgments were not about my parents, they were about me. I was seen as flawed because I couldn’t get along with my parents – I am adult now – the teenager not ‘getting along’ with his/her parents was not holding up with my friends of similar age. Immaturity was the kindest judgement, the others were a lot harsher – my parents are unhealthy therefore, I must be as well – the apple doesn’t fall from the tree? And with this flaw I am no longer a good enough friend, I might lose the connection I had with them. And not having parents that I felt connected with made me that much more anxious to preserve my friendships in my life – hold on to them tight. Do what I need to keep them as friends – lying was a nice alternative.
One of the things I learned is that being honest with myself and about my relationships was an important key to all of the pain I had been going through. Lying more and better wasn’t going to reduce the pain of any of it. I had to admit that when I begin to share the truth I had to allow my friends to tell me who they were. It may mean that I lose friends along the way or it may mean I develop a deeper, more authentic connection with them. As I started telling the truth I went all over the place, I went to extremes – which I learned later is natural when truly changing one’s behaviours. I told too much of my relationship – causing fear in some of my friends. Some are just not prepared to hear our stories and that’s okay. I still am honest. I no longer say that I have a great relationship with them. I tell people we are not close. And I let my friends speak for themselves. The one’s that are ready to hear it, ask questions to understand, the one’s that don’t – change the subject. Both responses are okay for me – they tell me something loud and clear and with honesty.
And what about my friends that ask me if they look good in a dress or a pair of jeans? Believe it or not, I think honesty works here too. This is a tough one because we don’t want our friends to feel bad about their body or weight. The question is really, what do they think about the outfit. I ask them ‘do you think it looks good on you?’. And what is hard for some friends is to look in the mirror and see themselves realistically. Often, my friends are looking for validation or invalidation. If they do see that the jeans make their butt look a bit weird – then they are hoping that you don’t see it too. They don’t want you to validate that by saying ‘No’ – because who would do this to a friend? If my friends push for my opinion, I still am kind and gentle but honest. That cut of jeans doesn’t seem to work, another one would work. Maybe, your friend might have some shame about it – which is different than trying to shame her intentionally. Who knows, you could have saved your friend from spending 250 euros (or any other currency)!
So, in your experience, is honesty always the best policy? When is it okay to lie?