Over the past week, I kept a journal for my intimate relationships and family relations psych class, recording how many lies and what types of lies I told each day. I had to reflect on what I learned from it, calculate the number/type of lies I told, and ruminate on why those fabrications came from my filthy, lying mouth.
Apparently the phrase, ‘liar, liar pants on fire’ stems from young children screaming at each other, trying to get the other in trouble whenever they were telling a lie. So why don’t we have something to keep us adults on track when it comes to honesty?
Research has shown that lying is surprisingly common, and that nearly all of us couldn’t go a day without lying at least once or twice a day. The lying doesn’t necessarily have to be a dark, deceptive lie. It can be as simple as someone asking you how your day is going and you reply “I’m fine,” when you’re in fact having one of those God awful days. Or someone asks you if an outfit looks okay on them and you respond, “That looks great!”, when maybe you’re just hoping to get them out of the house to get somewhere on time. Perhaps you overslept, but you call in at work exclaiming that traffic is heavy, because sleeping past your alarm would be considered irresponsible, when the traffic excuse is sometimes unavoidable and an excusable offense.
These little lies are what we would call “white lies.” Mostly to shy away from conflict or hurting someone’s feelings. Let’s say a friend paint a portraits in which what they believe to be their most prized piece of work, and you simply don’t care for it. You probably wouldn’t tell them “Ehh.. I’ve seen better!” Because you know they are proud of it and it probably isn’t the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen. There is a definitive difference between “saving face” and being deceptive.
Intentional behavior that creates an impression in the recipient that the deceiver knows to be untrue. Outright lying in which people fabricate information and make statements that contradict the truth is the most straightforward example of deceptive behavior, but there are various other ways to convey misleading impressions without coming right out and saying things that are untrue (Buller & Burgoon, 1994). For instance, people may simply conceal information and not mention details that would communicate the truth, or they may divert attention from vital facts, abruptly changing topics to avoid the discussion of touchy subjects. On other occasions, they may mix truthful and deceptive information into half-truths that are misleading (Miller, Rowland 2015).
Because… what would life be like if we were totally and completely honest all the time? And we had no choice in the matter? Maybe some things are better left unsaid, because sometimes there are no constructive ways to build from brutally honest words, and often times, those words can be simply unneeded or just plain rude, and make life a bit more difficult for yourself and others.
In no way will I agree that lying is a good thing, but As Jim Carrey displayed here in Liar, Liar, his painfully honest comments were probably not helpful for anyone’s self esteem in the office, or allowed him to maintain successful social relationships in the workplace. Some things are just unnecessary and would induce chaos in our world if we acted as silly as he did, suggesting that some lies are obviously undertaken to promote polite, friendly interactions with others.
My Personal Lie Journal
Someone asked how my day was and what I was up to. I told them I ran 3 miles, went to work, did some grocery shopping and got some writing in.
Truth: I ran 2.87 miles, not 3. Did I round to make it easier? Or did I say 3 because it looked better than admitting to just barely under 3 miles? I think it could have been easily both conclusions at once.
I had a long day at work and due to issues outside of work, I was under a decent amount of stress. A customer walked in while I was at the register and asked how I was, I responded by saying, “Oh, just absolutely wonderful, thank you! And yourself?” They responded happily and I continued with the transaction. Did I really feel absolutely wonderful? No… but I felt that it was unprofessional to have a therapeutic conversation for myself with a customer just because they were being polite in asking how I was. Is that technically a lie if someone asks how you are and you say the opposite of how you feel? It’s not an evil lie, but a fib nonetheless.
I moved out of my apartment, my dad helped me move my bed out from Portland back to Salem for a new job I start in a few weeks. We had a discussion that if I am to be living rent-free with him, I need to stop going on trips and start focusing on graduate school and saving money. Completely logical, and fair enough. A few days later, I was asked to fly to Memphis, Tennessee with a friend for an all expenses paid trip for a donation process and a chance to tour St Jude’s Children hospital. My first thought was, “My dad’s going to kill me,” my second thought was,”Well, I am officially done working in Portland, I don’t start my new job in Salem until the 17th, meaning that I will have two full weeks with a few winter classes in between. If I didn’t have to pay for a dime, it doesn’t really count as a trip does it? Oh absolutely it does. It took me a long time to confess this to my dad, but I called him last night explaining that this was my week of honesty, and not only will he most likely read my post, but if I am to practice what I preach and learn anything from this lying assignment, this is where I should start.
And you know what? I felt a world of relief I didn’t even know was pressed on my shoulders, and telling my father something that was EXACTLY the opposite of our agreement was not fun, but made the honesty between my dad and I genuine and felt true and real.
I caught myself telling a half-truth. A friend asked me when I was moving back, I said the 20th of this month. When really I come back the 17th, but because I am busy as far as dentist appointment, a new hire orientation and wanting some time to catch up on cleaning and organizing the room I just moved into, I gave myself a few days to relax before being social again. So, yes, I will be back the 20th, I should’ve just admitted that I would be back the 17th. But since I knew I wouldn’t be available, it was a convenience lie.
I can honestly say I don’t remember being dishonest in any way today. That is not to say that it may have happened unintentionally, but today I feel far more aware of the words flying out of my mouth than normal, and the importance of being honest to myself and others is crucial for trust, and being a genuine human. It weirdly makes your heart and soul smile too.
Can we tell when others lie?
There is no clear cut clues to deceit (Frank & Svetieva, 2013) However, careful attention to what people are saying – not just how they are saying it – can alert us to inconsistencies in their statements (Reinhard et al, 2011) And there may be discrepancies between their verbal and nonverbal behavior that give them away. Ultimately, there is no person or technology available to us to detect lies that are 100% accurate as of yet. The only true test is the truth/lie teller themselves, only you know the truth with your own deceptive or sincere heart.
There is a difference between being deceptively malicious and telling a white lie, but in the end, a lie is a lie. I’m not sure how to fix one’s habits of lying, but for me, journaling these little fibs over the last few days had me reflect on my own consciousness and hold myself accountable for the half-truths and small fibs that were documented. If we can learn to be aware of our habits and hold ourselves accountable for these day to day fabrications, perhaps we can choose honesty over convenience of a sweet covered lie. As silly as it may sound, I passionately recommend keeping a journal for yourself over the next week to become mindful of your own lying habits. I wrote mine down and called me dad to confess to him that I didn’t quite tell the whole truth because I didn’t want him to be disappointed or angry with me for going against his wishes. If you can’t practice what you preach, isn’t that in itself a falsification of genuine truth? Something to think on.