Talking to a friend the other day, she told me a story about how she’d caught her roommate smoking in the house, but when she confronted her about it, the roommate denied it. She went on to say how she actually expected that answer from her, because she often lies or covers up the truth about a lot of little things. Like when my friend finds fast food wrappers stuffed and hidden in trashcans, but the roommate declares she doesn’t touch the stuff.
Hearing this made me feel so much sadness and compassion for this woman. Not being honest with ourselves is the biggest disservice we can ever do in our lives, and creates an unhealthy cycle of shame and illusion around what’s really going on. And she’s certainly not alone. Humans are faced with many scruples in every day life, in order to navigate the social hierarchies that play out. However, when we’re not being honest with ourselves, or making up stories to save face, it inevitably leads to consequences.
In the extreme, this kind of self-abandonment can lead to addiction, depression and compulsive behavior, but what about the moderate little white lies we tell, that we think aren’t hurting anyone? Those consequences might show up in the person who justifies their shopping habit, but is actually in major debt with several maxed out cards. Or the person who is 30lbs overweight, but if we looked closer we’d see they actually eat late at night, because they’re lonely or stuffing the fact that they’re dissatisfied with their life or their job. Or the coworker who calls in sick, but really they’re hungover from escaping their truth the night before.
These are only examples, and it’s not about judgment either. First of all, every single one of us has lied, stolen something or escaped our truth in some way, shape or form at some point in our lives. We are human and we are not alone in this. Step one is awareness and step two is compassion and forgiveness.
Committing to the Truth
How often do we make up little white lies to cover up the truth? And why? For example, I may be running late for an appointment, and my first instinct might be to contrive a story: “Sorry I’m late, I got an important phone call at the last minute.” or “Sorry, traffic was horrible!” or blame the trusty scapegoat: public transportation.
When we tell little white lies, who are we trying to cover for? Are we trying to make the other person feel OK, or are we trying to make ourselves feel less ashamed about the real reason? Furthermore, if you are truly honest with yourself, is the truth all that bad? “Sorry I’m late, I totally should have left my house 15 minutes earlier.” “My apologies for not being on time, I really wanted to be and hate it when I’m not. I’m here now though… so good to see you!”
Often our white lies are our inability to forgive ourselves for messing up or not knowing better. So if we lie to ourselves, and others, we’re really just trying to be [an illusion of] perfect. By blaming something else, it’s not your fault. Or by making up an answer, you don’t look stupid. What if we started accepting responsibility? What if we committed to being aware of our feelings in those moments we find ourselves wanting to make up a story, and get curious as to why we feel compelled to speak anything other than the truth? Even if that means admitting you’re embarrassed or ashamed. Don’t take this as an invitation to beat yourself up about your shortcomings, just be aware of what’s really going on.
Personally I made a commitment a few years ago to watch for those times that I feel compelled to make up a story, and started practicing being really honest. In fact, what inspired this post was my not being completely honest with someone last week: I was in the check out line at Trader Joe’s and the cashier asked me how I planned to prepare the red quinoa I was buying. Well, to be perfectly honest, it might be the first time I’d ever bought red quinoa (I’d prepared the regular, but not red), and I had no idea. I had, however, read what was on the back of the box before I put it in my cart (or maybe it was online?), and it said something about an avocado salsa. Before I even had a chance to think about it, my answer rolled out that I was thinking about preparing it with “sauteed mushrooms and a simple avocado salsa.” Oh ya, I’m a total red quinoa expert and completely comfortable in the kitchen, nothin’ to see here! Jeez. Part of me can chalk that up to creative improvisation, but really? What if instead I answered with 100% honesty, what would that have looked like? “You know, I haven’t made quinoa too many times… do you have any recommendations?”
Despite my silly white lie – that most likely no one but me was privy to (i.e. I’m only disrespecting myself in that dishonesty) – he did give me a recommendation… and a great one at that! See: How to Sprout Quinoa
Vulnerability is Sexy and Endearing
It doesn’t have to be all serious, either! Some of my favorite moments are when people humbly apologize and can laugh at themselves. Nobody’s perfect, and we’re all doing our best. Let’s commit to accepting and respecting ourselves enough to be as honest as we possibly can. We stand to learn a lot about ourselves and feel free-er and lighter than ever before.
If this post hit a chord with you, I recommend the following books: