In 2002 a study was published in a psychology journal about an experiment that examined how much people lie. The experiment involved two strangers talking with each other for ten minutes, while their conversations were recorded. All participants in the experiment believed they had been telling the truth. But, after reviewing the footage, they and the scientists found that 60 per cent had lied within the ten minute conversation and the average number of lies told during that time was 2.92 per person.
Other studies show that 86% of us lie to our parents and 69% to our partners. But both of those statistics have to be untrue. I mean, what child has never lied to his parents? What partner has never lied to her other half?
Perhaps the only truth we can be certain of is that we all lie.
But why do we lie?
Have you ever stopped and asked yourself why we lie?
When we do stop and think about it, we realise that lying is really about self-preservation and self-esteem.
Here are three main reasons why we lie:
1. Insecurity – We lie because we want to make ourselves more accepted and likeable. We want to fit in. We don’t want to look stupid or inadequate. This is why we tell the most ridiculous and unnecessary lies like we have read Pride and Prejudice when we haven’t. Or when we say that, of course, we have heard of Francis Bacon when, in truth, we are not sure whether he was a painter or a poet, let alone what century he was born in. This is also why we lie to our doctors about how much we drink or smoke.
2. Fear – We lie because we don’t want to face the consequences of stuff we have done wrong or mistakes we have made. If we tell our partner that we have just lost £100 at the bookmakers, will she forgive us? If we tell our boss that we overslept because we were hung over, will we get the sack? We are afraid of what will happen if we tell the truth, so we cover up. And sometimes we get away with it. But sometimes it leads to a whole tangle of lies so that, in the end, the cover up becomes a worse offence than whatever we did in the first place.
3. Manipulation – We lie because we want to take advantage of others. When we enhance our CVs or omit information that might raise difficult questions, we are trying to put ourselves ahead of other people - who might be equally or better qualified for a position. When we tell someone we love them but really we just want sex with them, we are manipulating others to meet our desires.
Some lying feels harmless enough. But much lying is very costly – to others and to ourselves.
Lying is addictive and it has the power to wreck relationships, to hurt people and to rob us both of our integrity and of peace.
So why don’t we just tell the truth? Is telling the truth really that bad?
Well, here are three reasons to give it a try:
1. Honesty bring peace – Lying is stressful. Suppose you feel socially inferior to a new friend and you tell that friend your parents live in a nice house in the country - when really they live in a small flat over a curry house. And the friend asks you exactly where they live and you have to lie again. And then the friend says that’s amazing because her family live in the same village and wouldn’t it be good if you all met up some time. And you then have to make an excuse why that’s a lovely idea but maybe not just now as your mum is having chemotherapy. And then, the next time you see this friend and she asks you how your mum is you have to lie again. And again…and so it goes on. Lying involves keeping track of your lies and this can be extremely stressful.
2. Honesty builds trust – It may sometimes be hard to tell the truth but when we develop a habit of being honest then this trait will, over time, be really valued and create a deep respect for us in others. When we are known for admitting our mistakes, for taking responsibility for things we’ve done wrong – others admire us rather than seeing us as weak and incompetent. Tell your partner you’ve been gambling and work out why you are doing this – before it becomes a habit and a big secret and ultimately threatens your relationship. Tell your boss you overslept – again - and risk being formally cautioned – maybe this will help you make sure you don’t sleep through the alarm the next time. Admit to your doctor that you are drinking a whole bottle of red wine every night and get the help you need - before drinking ruins your health and relationships.
3. Honesty makes you feel good about yourself – Cheating and manipulating others may have short term benefits but how do these habits make you feel over the longer term? Do you want to be known as someone who can’t be trusted, who is dishonourable? We think people can’t see through our lies and maybe they don’t at first – but, in time, people do see through us and look down on us when we lie.
Faith can be a big help if we want to stop lying and commit to a life of honesty and integrity. Not just because God puts ‘Thou shall not bear false witness’ in his top ten tips for having a good life (in the Ten Commandments.) But because, when we know ourselves loved by God, we don’t feel insecure, we don’t feel the need to puff ourselves up. We know that we are loved just the way we are – with all our weaknesses and inadequacies.
We also know there’s no need or point in covering up stuff we’ve done wrong. First we know that, through Jesus, we are forgiven. And, secondly, we know that God knows what we’ve done – and loves us anyway.
Finally, we know that God has made us to love one another. And that kind of love means wanting the very best for others – as God does – and not putting ourselves first, especially when we need to lie to do that.
Whatever you believe, however – whether you have faith in God or not – lying ultimately makes us less than the people we might be. It diminishes us.
So be bold, take courage. See if you can get through a whole day, a whole week, telling only the truth. Telling the truth in love and compassion – and just see the difference this makes, the blessing it brings.