Lying is bad for your health and that of the person lied to. I am not talking in this article about the ordinary, everyday, white lies required of us to function in society with manners and graciousness. Not the lies that lead to smoother communication or that have altruism at their root. To lie this way after all is to be human. We learn it as children: to lie because we don’t want to get into trouble or because we care about what other kids think of us or because we don’t want to lose the love of parents or family. If you tell yourself that you never lie, that would be the biggest one of all!
The lies that will affect your health and wellbeing are those with serious consequences that are based on selfish and antisocial premises. Think lies that have torn marriages apart; shredded trust in relationships; lies that have defrauded people or even those that have brought nations to war. Deception can consist of more than just saying nefarious lies; in fact many forms of deception do not involve making statements at all e.g. withholding or concealing information, keeping someone in the dark, etc. It is argued however in academic circles that lies have a greater tendency to damage trust than other forms of deception.
Why do we even lie at all? Firstly, because it is encoded in our genes as deception does have evolutionary and adaptive value. Secondly, we have the brain to do it with: a prefrontal cortex to plan and execute it, an anterior cingulate cortex to inhibit true responses and an amygdala for emotional processing. The bigger the brain, the more your capacity to lie. And as Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics Dan Ariely says, “Once you lie, you will continue to lie,” as the behavior reinforces neural tracks in the brain to make it easier to do it the next time. And then there is the utilitarian reason wherein a person may choose to lie if they perceive they can benefit with little risk of harm to themselves or others.
Unfortunately, lying is harmful. Unless you have become a master of self-deception and can rationalize your way out of any guilt and shame. In experiments with college students, it has been shown that when you cheat mainly for self-gain, there tends to be an increase in emotional arousal (which is the basis for the use of ‘lie detectors’) whereas there is an absence of such arousal when a person believes they are cheating for a charitable cause or for a ‘rational’ reason. The better you are in deceiving yourself, the better a liar you will be and the less likely will you face and address the underlying shame or fear that drives you to lie.
Lying not only destroys relationships but it destroys you with its vicious cycle; a lie will need more lies to cover the lie! A lie can grow like a cancer. Liars can never feel good about themselves until they face the facts and do something about changing their behavior and life.
Lying erodes trust; and trust is the social and emotional glue of relationships. Together with love and respect, trust is a key ingredient in any relationship. Being with a person you can’t trust causes stress and emotional upheaval. Without trust, there is no point in having a relationship or friendship unless for a more basic, survival need. A person may rationalize that he or she lies to protect the partner; in reality they are only protecting themselves.
Lying not only destroys relationships with others, but it also destroys the relationship with one’s self. To tell a lie may further erode the already shaky self-esteem of a person that lies. It can eat them up with shame inside out, bones to skin.
Although honesty is not one of the Seven Cardinal Virtues of Christianity, courage is. It does take an inner strength to face the truth especially when not doing so has grievous consequences. In yoga practice, the first two abstentions (yamas) are from harm and from lying, and are usually discussed in their positive form: non-violence (ahimsa) and truthfulness (satya). Both are inter-related, for lies of consequence always bring harm. One could argue that the truth can also be harmful in certain situations; and so the guiding principle should be “mindfulness” so one is clear that there is no intention to harm and that one has an understanding of truth in their own thoughts, speech and actions as it relates the whole of life.
Would you rather be hurt by the truth or comforted by a lie? The former I believe eventually leads to wholeness and health while the latter may leave you dis-eased with a nagging, guilty feeling inside. Keep things simple. Have a moral compass that truly reflects who you are and monitor your thoughts, speech, and actions to be consistent with it.
Now, I would be lying to you if I said, “I wasn’t tired and could keep on writing.” But I am, so I will stop here. May we all think, speak and act for the betterment of others and the world!