Is Lying Acceptable?

by Marie T. Russell

Judging by what I see on TV and in my email, one would think that lying has become acceptable. TV commercials use situations in which the character is lying to sell us a product, TV programs feature "lovable" characters that lie to their friends and employer to "protect themselves", our daily email contains unsolicited emails that have in the subject line "in reply to your email" or that thank you for signing up to their list when you never did.

Lying seems to have become a way of life. We are lied to in order to sell us something: whether a product, an "official truth", a new government policy. We are even lied to in order to "protect us". And we are lied to for entertainment purposes. Is the truth so difficult that we are too "weak and ineffective" to handle it?

Now, of course, since what we see "out there" is a reflection of us, we need to take a look at how we lie in our own lives.

Of course the most common and "harmless" lie is when we tell someone a compliment without meaning it, or when we withhold telling someone the truth so as to "not hurt their feelings".

I was raised with the concept of "white lies". There were two kinds of lies: the bad, real serious lies, and then there were the ones which were "ok", the white lies. Yet, when is a lie not a lie? When we withhold or camouflage the truth, we are deceiving ourselves and others -- no matter the "size" of the lie.

Many times we don't tell the truth so we won't "rock the boat". There has been times in my life that people did not tell me something so they would not hurt my feelings -- yet perhaps I needed to hear that truth to help me grow, to help me advance on my spiritual path. Perhaps they thought they were protecting me, or "being nice" to me, when in truth they were holding back information that I needed.

The issue is not so much one of telling the truth, as to "how" to tell the truth. I remember being told when I was in my twenties, "You're sure honest aren't you"... The person told me this almost as if it was a bad thing... Later I realized that what the person meant was that I was hurtful in my honesty. In other words, I was blunt. I would simply blurt out the truth in whatever way it came to my mind. I did not go to the effort to make my "truth telling" be non-threatening, non-judgmental, and devoid of blame, ridicule, mockery, etc. Yes I was honest, but I was also judgmental and critical, and my "truth-telling" carried a nice in its hand.

Years later, when I had employees, I eventually learned that there are different ways of telling the same truth. If someone makes an error, there are different ways to communicate that "truth". You can say something like "that was really stupid" (which may be honest, but surely not supportive), or perhaps one can say, "I see that you really are working hard at this. Perhaps if you try this way it will make it easier." Same message, different intonation, and of course, a different effect on the recipient of your comment.

There is a difference between tact and lying. One can say the truth with caring and compassion -- with an eye on giving a positive and supportive message, rather than a hurtful and demeaning one. Perhaps if we always spoke from love rather than indifference or inattention then our messages would come out differently.

And then there are those instances where the lie is not to protect the "other" but to protect ourselves. We have done something that we don't want to admit. Yet, no matter how much we pretend and lie, we can never hide the truth from ourselves. We will know that we lied, and the damage done to our self-esteem and self-worth by that knowledge is far greater than the damage of admitting to someone that you made an error, or whatever it is you're lying about.

When we lie, we end up feeling like a liar, and we carry around the guilt (consciously or not) of the lie we told. Then we have to expend even more energy remembering the lie so we can keep it up and not get caught later. Ah what a tangled web we weave!

Our life would be much simpler if we simply told the truth. Maybe we'd have some difficulties at the beginning as we learned this new method of communication, but so many problems would be averted along the way. The challenge is to tell the truth with love and compassion, both for ourselves and the person we are sharing with.

If we want to create a better life for ourselves and for the people around us, we cannot build it on lies. Whenever you've lied to someone, there develops a wall between you... both because of the guilt and because you have to keep of the pretense of the lie. You no longer can afford to be completely honest and open with that person. And believe me, the other person knows it (whether consciously or not) -- they sense something in your attitude, or perhaps read something in your body language. You can't quite meet their eye anymore when you speak to them.

When we have a lie between us and someone else, true communication and love cannot take place. Since we are not being true to ourselves, we become "phony" in our relationship. We become split. And the relationship becomes unbalanced from that point on. There is no longer any true and open communication because the lie is there, between the two of you, like a smoke screen...

For some of us, lying has become second nature. We lie about what we had for lunch because we don't want people to know we are not following our diet. We lie about how much we spent on a new dress because we don't want the other person to know we spent "too much". We lie about "little things" that we think won't matter, and we lie about "big things" because we think that's safer than telling the truth. We think our world will be more secure if we pretend and cover-up the truth.

Yet, if we are living a lie, then our happiness and peace is also a lie and it is surely not secure. It may look, on the outside, like our relationships and life are running smoothly, but if it is all resting on a net of lies, then at some point that net will not support the whole fabrication. Then, it is much harder to deal with the truth coming out, after you've camouflaged it for years... What started out as a "small lie", after years (or months) or being supported, turns out to be a major breach in the communication between two beings.

Often times in the "dating scene", someone will say "small lies" to make themselves look good, yet later when the truth behind those lies becomes obvious, the other person loses confidence and trust in you. After all, if you've lied once, what else are you or could you be lying about?

To have harmonious relationships, they must be based on love and openness. And how can we be open when we are hiding lies? It makes our life be a maze of complications. Want to have a peaceful life? Be honest with yourself and others. Be aware of the small untruths that you tell; be aware of the truths you even hide from yourself. Many times the things we hide are the very things that would set us free. Our ego mistakenly believes that it is doing us a favor by hiding the truth, when love and openness are the key to attaining inner peace, not pretense.

We can choose to live a life of pretension and "half-truths". Or we can choose to be conscious of our words, of our feelings, or our inner knowledge and truth. We can become aware of our innermost feelings and thoughts -- respecting whatever is true for us, at that moment.

When we live live mindfully and consciously, we live our life based on a foundation of respect: respect for ourselves and respect for others. And respect entails trusting someone enough to tell them "our truth" -- and do it with love.


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About The Author

About The Author

Marie T. Russell is the publisher of InnerSelf Magazine (first published in 1985 as Mighty Natural Magazine). She produced a weekly South Florida radio broadcast, Inner Power, from 1991-1995 which focused on themes such as self-esteem, personal growth, and well-being. Her articles focus on transformation and reconnecting with our inner source of joy and creativity.

Marie's favorite book on this topic: 

"Radical Honesty"
by Brad Blanton
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