Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why Lying is Making Your Life More Miserable than It Needs to Be

When we find someone especially attractive, most of us (okay, all of us typically) change our internal behaviour, even slightly. We favour them. We might become premeditated in our approach to them. We talk too much or too little. Suddenly we’re more self-conscious. Our placing them on our mind and in our heart, even for a few minutes, is actually a self-betrayal—it’s a lie. Trouble is we do these sorts of things; often enough.

Everyone lies.

There, now it’s been said we can get on with addressing the problem and halve our shame. Everyone conceals or bends information or delays their use of it, whether it’s out of good intent or bad. Note to self: it’s my bad intent I must really deal with.

Bad intent is the ‘traditional lie.’ Good intent means we conceal or bend information, or delay our use of it, for warranted reasons. Say, for instance, when there are issues of distrust. We’re right, more or less, to lie (or conceal truth) with good intent if to protect our or others’ privacy, rights or safety. The justice system, for instance, does it all the time. It’s entirely necessary.

When we lie with good intent—as an advocate—we don’t feel guilty or ashamed. We feel justified. We’re discharging our duty out of concern or love. The aspects of the world we cannot completely trust force our hand at times. Every “good” person does this. They have to in order to be “good.” (I can detect a theological rumbling... never mind.)

I am simply being pragmatic about the issues of living life well in a fallen world.

Lying with bad intent is the lie that makes us feel bad i.e. guilty and ashamed. These are little “white” lies we tell when we don’t have the courage to tell the whole truth and our body language—a smirk, fidgeting, nervous smile, unusual hand gestures etc—can easily give us away.

Indeed, hang the body language—we convict ourselves! And don’t we feel doubly guilty and ashamed for it?

I’ve got a story that perfectly illustrates this. Years ago I got into a fight with one of my brothers—I’m the eldest. (I ended up coming out second-best!) One punch landed chipped seven teeth. Fast forward nearly ten years. As I mentioned this to my dentist (who’s incidentally well acquainted to my family) after he inquired about it, it took a bit of courage to ‘fess-up’ with dignity simply because I view myself as a person of ‘good standing’ and a fight with my brother (years ago) still marks my conscience. ‘What will he think of me now?’ was my feeble attitude, and I was tempted to mask what to tell him. I lie; even if one little bit. I feel ashamed in the moment. The whole event shames not just me but my whole family (potentially), years on. But as brothers we joke about it. It’s cool. We got over it. But it’s not cool what others think of me and my family.

What this shows is life necessitates lying. I protect myself and my family, but I feel guilt and shame in the process. The only rectification is to be boldly honest, and consciously unashamed. This is not easy for any of us, but it is achievable.

Life necessitates the lie—how else do we respectfully interact with the plenty we don’t trust? Trust is such a situational and rapport-based condition on all our relationships, anyway. Trust is a difficult thing to maintain. Where we do not trust we’re tempted to lie.

The only way lying can make us really miserable, though, is if we lie with bad intent—to cover something up due to guilt or shame.

Hang guilt or shame! They do us no good!

If we can discipline ourselves to be more authentic and pick ourselves up when we compromise our integrity, owning the bad things that have occurred, we’re much happier—certainly less shamed and miserable.

If we annul our lies of bad intent, feeling less guilty and ashamed, perhaps we’ll have the self-esteem at some stage to courageously resist lying with good intent as much?

The moral to the story is, be honest as much as possible—less misery, more peace.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

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