In my last post I tried to set up some thoughts about lying. Toward the end of that post, I talked about two people that I know we often lie to: God and ourselves. Today I want to think about how we lie to others and how to stop doing that.
Before I dive in, let me talk about a couple of reasons this is important. First, it’s important because lying is a sin. Thou shalt not lie is one of the ten commandments. The second thing is that while lying to someone may seem like it helps us in that circumstance it almost always backfires in some way. But even if it doesn’t seem to it does at least two things. It erodes trust and it impacts my ability to love that person – because I’ll know I lied to them – even if they never know it.
I don’t think most of us set out to lie. For the most part we don’t go around with the goal of deceiving people or lying to their face so to speak. It’s much more nuanced than that.
We lie to people for all sorts of reasons. A lot of times it’s because we want people to like us. Other times it’s because we don’t want to admit failure. It might be because I don’t want to show weakness or ignorance. Perhaps we don’t want to be left out of something. Another reason is because we want to justify our actions or decisions. It could also be because we know they are going to ask us about it and we want to head it off in a direction that “helps us”. Maybe we’ve done something wrong and we don’t want to face the consequences. We don’t want someone to be mad at us. There are lots of reasons.
We make a decision but we don’t want to share our actual reasoning so we come up with some. That’s lying. We over promise on something knowing that realistically we will under deliver. That’s lying. We fail to do something at work, at home, in a friendship and we justify it or come up with an excuse. Also lying. Someone below us in the “need to know” chain asks us about something that we can’t answer so we lie to them to avoid telling them what we aren’t allowed to. That’s lying. We tell people what we know they want to hear to avoid conflict. Yup – that’s lying. We know the truth would hurt their feelings so we sugar coat it to the point that it’s false. That would be lying. We withhold pertinent information from someone who we know needs it in order to help ourselves. That’s lying. I could go on but you get the idea.
None of this is ok. It hurts us and it hurts others. In a lot of situations it creates massive mistrust. It ruins our integrity. It also causes us to mistrust others. It’s never actually necessary.
What if you just stopped lying? What would that look like? How would you do it? What would it cost? I want to issue you a challenge. Stop lying to others.
Here’s how to do it.
First, work on not lying to yourself. This is hard but important. If you are lying to yourself it’s much harder to not lie to others. That said, here are some practical thoughts.
Don’t promise something you know you probably can’t or won’t do. Classic Christian example: don’t tell people you’ll pray if won’t. Maybe pray right then instead of saying you’ll pray later. That’s just one simple life changing idea. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. For most of us our no is no and our yes is “I’ll maybe think about doing it”.
Take your thoughts captive before you say them. Or at the least pay attention to what you are saying. It’s ok to stop in a conversation and say, “You know what, actually I don’t like what I just said there. The reality is . . . ”
When you screw up, own it. Don’t justify it. Just ask for forgiveness and move forward. And don’t overpromise on what you’re going to do to fix it. Don’t lie a second time.
If someone asks you something that you can’t tell them, don’t lie. Just tell them that you can’t talk about it. Or tell them the spirit in which you or those above you are making decisions in. Don’t tell them something false. Don’t engage in conversations where you know it’s leading to things that you can’t share.
This doesn’t mean by the way that you need to tell everyone everything you know. It doesn’t even mean that you need to tell someone everything that might be helpful to them in a certain moment. It certainly doesn’t mean that you have to tell everyone everything about you. Privacy is fine.
When you do lie to someone stop and think about why you did it. When you lie, stop and ask, “Why did I just do that? What insecurity or fear do I have that just made me do that? What am I trying to justify?”
The bottom line here is that we need to have integrity. We need to be trustworthy. We need to stop lying to people.