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Dec 27

The Real Benefits of Honesty Nobody Told You

amazing benefit of honesty

Photo: Pixabay

The brilliant late philosopher David Foster Wallace opened with the following parable at his commencement speech to Kenyon College class of 2005:

 

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says,“Morning, boys, how’s the water?”

And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes,

“What the hell is water?”

 

Lying is not something we consciously think about often these days but not because it isn’t all around us. We are surrounded by it in our conversations, our relationships and our politics. We don’t consciously notice it because it is ubiquitous. It is our water.

According to some research, 60% of adults can’t have a 10 minute conversation without lying at least once, and of those 60% they told on average 3 lies. What’s worse, often people are not even aware of the fact that they are lying and are surprised when showed recorded conversations back to them. Now granted most of the lies we tell are considered by most to be ‘harmless’ but I am here to tell you otherwise. Lying is a habit, it is not harmless and the one it hurts the most is you. Honesty is our window to truth.

What follows is a list of reasons to always tell the truth. Some of these will be obvious to you, others you may not have thought of but they all matter.

1. Lying Takes Energy

Making decisions is mentally taxing. Each time you lie, no matter how small or insignificant, you are spending energy on making a decision of whether to lie or tell the truth. It is well documented that the more decisions we make in the day, the worse our judgement becomes. Matters of financial stupidity, infidelity and substance abuse are all greatest later in the day when our decision making apparatus is at its most burned out. Last minute ridiculous purchases at the check-out counter are induced by making dozens of prior purchasing decisions. Judges rulings are deemed less fair later in the day after prior decisions. If you only tell the truth you have eliminated hundreds of decisions from your day. You will make better decisions in all other areas of your life by never choosing to lie.

2. If You Lie to Others you Will Lie to Yourself

No one self-identifies with being a liar. The more you lie the more your ego will convince you didn’t do it. Your lies become in conflict with your identity, and as a result you start to believe them. After you have begun to believe your own lies, who will be there to tell you the truth? Blurring the line between truth and lie is at the heart of self-deception. Self-deception is the opposite of the enlightened state we seek.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

-Richard P. Feynman

3. Lying Subconsciously Produces Anxiety and Fear

When one lies, they constantly have to remain on guard for fear of being discovered. This creates a subconscious state of anxiety where the mind worries about the future. Much of our day to day anxiety comes from this worry about being ‘found out’.

4. Trust Creates Opportunity

When people are aware of your dishonesty they cannot completely trust you. People will be more guarded around you. People will share true information less easily. People relax and become more authentic with you when they trust you. Information, opportunity and relationships are extremely valuable.

Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.

-Albert Einstein

5. You Will be Surrounded by People Who Accept You

When we are 100% honest about ourselves we select for people that accept us for who we are. Life is too short to waste time being with people that cannot accept us for being our true authentic selves.

6. Lying, Even With Good Intention, is Disrespect

When we lie to make someone feel better (no, you don’t look fat in those jeans) we are disrespecting them by implying they cannot emotionally handle the truth. The truth can always be told in a respectful way. A lie cannot.

7. When People Ask Your Opinion, You Know They Really Value it

If you only tell the truth, and people know this, much of the bullshit gets filtered out. People will only ask you questions when they truly want your opinion. People appreciate it. This eliminates mental and verbal clutter from your life. If someone does not appreciate the truth then this person is not deserving of your time. Now don’t confuse truth telling with being an asshole. There are ways to tell the truth in any scenario without being hurtful. At the core people crave truth and honesty. Wrap the truth in genuine empathy and understanding. A genuine person is a glass of ice water in the desert of superficiality and lies we normally inhabit.

8. Truth Forces Self-reflection

In order to always tell the truth you need to know what you believe. When you take this truth telling seriously your responses become less automatic. You start pausing because it is so important to you that what you say is genuine. It can be a little taxing and strenuous at first, but creates a deep seeded feeling of agency and ownership. It creates calm.

9. Truth Creates Freedom

Every time you lie to someone you have unknowingly limited your options. In order to maintain the lie and not be discovered some of your freedom must now be sacrificed.

People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.

-Ayn Rand

10. Guilt and Shame are Built From Lies

These are toxic emotions and should be eliminated. Lying creates guilt, and guilt leads to shame. Underneath our guilt and shame oftentimes lies anger, resentment or fear. Telling the truth will not guarantee freedom from these emotions, but lying virtually ensures you will have them. If you lie without guilt and shame you may be a sociopath. If you are a sociopath, the other reasons still apply to you, so don’t lie.

11. Truth Diminishes Others’ Power Over You

If you are always truthful no one can blackmail you with your lies. When you lie, you are giving people power over you. This is counter intuitive because on the surface lies feel so powerful.

12. Like Attracts Like

Truth is a valuable commodity, and truthful people are highly valued. People that value truth are more often truthful themselves. These people will be attracted to you because you are more valuable to them. You will slowly find yourself surrounded by higher quality people. It is a virtuous circle you should cultivate.

13. Lying Cheapens Your Brand

One of the most valuable things you possess is your integrity. It is also one of the easiest things to lose. Keeping your integrity is much easier than trying to get it back. Once you lie to an honest person, they will remember it forever.

lie truth

Photo: Pixabay

Now, being 100% truthful doesn’t mean spewing out whatever comes to your mind. Just because something is true doesn’t mean it needs to be said. Make sure it is necessary. Make sure it is kind. Make sure it is tactful. Most of the time our opinion doesn’t really matter. We only give it to make ourselves feel better and to validate our own ideas, not to actually help the person receiving it. Don’t be that selfish. Many internet forums are 99% filled with this kind of crap.  Restraint can provide a form of freedom as well – the freedom to choose what to respond to.

 

Consequences

Becoming truthful will have consequences; mostly positive but consequences none the less. If you are living a life where lying is common the transition may be painful at first. It takes courage and fortitude to face these lies and accept the consequences. Only you can know if or when you are ready. Start dealing with the small lies first and work up to the big ones. Don’t confuse truth with confession. You don’t necessarily need to dig up old lies from the past and project them on a billboard and announce them to the world, rather you need to make the conscious decision to be truthful going forward.

 

My resolution this year is to transform myself to 100% truthfulness. I’m already much further along than most people I meet, but I’m not perfect. Reflecting back on the few lazy white lies I tell from time to time disturbs me. I can see them erode away at my freedom and energy. I can see the tiny amounts of disrespect and shame that are created. It stops now. My goal this year is 100% perfection.

chinese truth

Photo: Pixabay


Life is never as black and white as we would like it to be. We live in the shades of gray. There are scenarios where a lie may be preferable to the truth, such as when the life or safety of yourself or another is in danger. Reflection tells me these events are extremely rare but I reserve the right to be flexible in case of an emergency, and so should you. Just do not use this as an excuse to justify all lies. Acknowledge them and accept the consequences.

Please comment below and share your thoughts or send me feedback privately in the contact section. Your thoughts and ideas are what makes me a better thinker and writer. Consider sharing with others if you found this article valuable.

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  1. LeisureFreak Tommy

    Awesome article and I will also pledge for 2016 to always be truthful. I sometimes bend the truth to protect the feelings of someone else but as you convincingly mention, it is a form of disrespect. Something I hadn’t thought about. I have always thought that telling a lie carries far too much maintenance. Trying to remember what you said, to whom, etc., so it is never worth it. I will sometimes not say anything when the truth will hurt but that is a form of lying too. Like you said, if asked my opinion then my honest opinion however painful is what should be returned. Lots to think about here.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Thanks for stopping by Tommy. Appreciate the comments. I like your 2016 pledge, and you gave me a great idea for a future post 🙂

  2. Greg

    My wife is more honest than most. We’ve lost friends due to her. Now the people that we spend time with believe her compliments and praise and understand that her critical comments are true input with no filter. She is a great role model, & I work to be as direct as she is despite having a job that requires me to be somewhat careful with my word choice.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      I think some people are so used to being lied to that someone who tells the truth can be a little jarring. It’s tough to lose a friendship over telling the truth, but I look at it like a filtering mechanism to find people that like me for my true authentic self. I may not like people that tell me the truth, but I always respect them for it.

  3. Justin @ Root of Good

    I see where you’re headed with this. I tend to tell the truth, even when it’s not necessarily appreciated. Sometimes that gets me in hot water but it usually works out okay in the end.

    It’s definitely easier to tell the truth – no mental energy required to remember what you said, or to whom.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Thanks for your comment Justin. I plan on a follow-up post in a year detailing my experiences and challenges with this radical form of honesty 🙂

  4. GW

    absolutely fabulous article

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Thank you 🙂

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