Why do people we love or work with, lie to us, and how do we respond when they do?
“I never got your project in my email.” Yeah, I think you did; I requested a Read Receipt.
“My wife has no clue because I’m such a good actor, but I am so checked out of our marriage.” Trust me: on some level, she knows.
“Í didn’t eat the last (fill in the blank).” Ok, so it’s you, me and the cat. Has he learned how to open the ‘fridge?
When my son was still a toddler, he thought that by covering his own eyes, he’d be invisible to everyone else in the family. So if he wanted to “hide”, he’d just put his little hands up in front of his face, like the game of peek-a-boo we play with babies. A cloak of immunity (he loved to pull all of the clean linen out of the closet and spread it around the hallway) from discovery and accountability.
Today I was reflecting – as I’m sneaking up on another birth day – on the many wonderful ways that age brings not only wisdom of self-knowledge, but common sense. This week, however, I was confronted by the actual statements above, made by people who are older – wiser ? than I am. So, denial and obfuscation – let’s just call it what it is, dishonesty – is obviously not the sole territory of the young and foolish. Anyone looking for a back door, an escape clause or hatch, a way to be invisible can deploy lying. Lies can be big or small, but they’re all about avoiding exposure. But ‘exposure’ to what? I thought back, to that feeling…
The first professional job I had in my first career (Education) was a high school teacher. I was thrilled to have the job, but apprehensive about being so close in age to my students (I was only 23, and they were between 16 – 18 years old). Despite having graduated from college and having several credentials “under my belt”, I feared being called-out as a fraud. What did that mean? To me, it meant being appraised, and found lacking. Knowledge; poise; maturity; skill: missing from my repertoire.
I survived my first year of teaching, but learned some hard lessons about being truthful and humble (I told my students I had more experience than I actually did at the time). They learned otherwise.
Why do we lie, or, my favorite, not tell the whole truth in certain situations? As I noted above, this is really a question that most of us know the answer to: to avoid the nasty consequences we know are coming if we tell the truth about ‘whatever’. The problem with lying, however (unless there’s some kind of pathology in operation), is twofold: first, the lie seeps into our beliefs about ourselves and almost always causes even more fear and self-doubt; and second, lies tend to proliferate because they become easier to tell.
The man who told me about his clueless wife is totally depressed and wakes exhausted, most mornings at 3 a.m. The woman who told me she didn’t receive my project (despite my receipt that she’d at least opened my email) is developing a growing reputation as a “flake”.
I’m not holding myself above anyone who has lied, or attempted to avoid being exposed by saying nothing or providing only a partial truth. I’m just thinking about what this feels like in our hearts: when we engage in deception, or when we become aware that we’re on the receiving end of a lie. It doesn’t feel good. It always comes out, in one way or another. The dis-ease of lying is corrosive. How much better to come from a place of Truth, shout or whisper your Mea Culpa, and ask for forgiveness?