Why do we lie?
I started thinking about that question the other day when I found out that a good friend told me a lie. It wasn’t a lie by omission. It was a look-me-in-the-eye, made-up-story kind of lie. This wasn’t a lie that was going to hurt anyone. And truth be told, I always sensed that my friend wasn’t telling the truth. Some people just aren’t very good liars. Plus, I like to think that my internal radar can sniff out dishonesty the moment it’s spoken. Our gut instincts rarely let us down. Nevertheless, upon hearing confirmation of this lie, I felt mad. I wondered why someone who usually confides in me would fabricate a story? As I stewed over my friend’s fictitious tale, I started to feel irritated. My irritation turned to anger and began to consume my thoughts. My friend’s small lie grew into a volcano of questions erupting in my mind... Why would this person lie to me? Are we not as good of friends as I thought we were? Why didn’t my friend trust me? Maybe this person doesn’t view me as a good friend anymore? Maybe this person thinks I will judge their choices? And then I mentally role-played how I was going to expose the truth about my friend’s lie the next time we saw each other.
As I continued to interview myself with 20 questions about my friendship status based on a lie, I suddenly came to a halt. I realized that there was a major problem with my questions. They were all revolving around ME.
Me, My, I.
This wasn’t MY lie. I didn’t own it. And the lie didn’t have anything to do with me. So I went back to pondering my initial question. Why do we lie? I knew that if I could answer that question with clarity, I might see this “lie-in-question” from another perspective. There are a number of reasons why we lie. And there are definitely varying degrees of lying. From white lies (Like the fact that my driver’s license still says that I weigh 125 pounds), to lies that we tell to protect another person (Like when I promised not to tell that it was my sister who really broke my mom’s Waterford frame when she had a house party in high school. Ok, that’s a lie). Joking aside, here’s the truth. When you get down to the heart of a real lie, there are two main reasons for dishonesty: We’re afraid of getting into trouble, or we’re ashamed of the truth. Or both. As human beings, we innately fear consequences and we never like to admit our failures. We lie when we are in a place of weakness. We lie when we don’t feel good about ourselves. We lie when we feel shame. We lie when we don’t want to be judged. We lie to protect our own shortcomings. A person who tells a lie is usually struggling with the truth.
And so as I considered a possible confrontation about the truth behind the lie, I realized that pouncing on the weak wasn’t the friend-ly thing to do. I had to let it go. My friend needed to put a protective wall around the truth. It came in the form of a lie. And my friend’s reason wasn’t for me to judge or question.
We’ve all heard the popular phrase that “the truth will set you free.” That sounds like a beautiful thought. And it may even be true. But for those who are securing a lie tight within their memory bank, it is their story to tell. In their own time. If they choose. Maybe the truth will set them free. Or maybe the lie is their means of protection. But either way, it’s their truth to expose or disguise.
And that’s the truth about a lie.