I’ll try my best not to be preachy about a topic that tempts me to stand on a soapbox with megaphone in hand. The lack of honesty in some corners of public life the past few years has gotten me all riled up, so the temptation to sermonize is great.
Few people who have ever lived on this planet have been paragons of honesty. The Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology once published a paper about an experiment involving two strangers talking to each other for ten-minutes with the knowledge that they were being tape-recorded. Despite the intention each subject had to tell the truth, the researchers noted that about 60% of the test participants told a lie within that time span. The researchers noted that the average count of lies within ten-minutes was 2.92 for each subject.
The people tested were selected from the general population, and as far as I can determine, did not include politicians, clergy, or celebrities. It would be interesting to see the fib-count had any people from those professions been included. I’m guessing the figure might be at least two numbers higher.
Other studies about lying and honesty have been done by various universities, bureaus, and organizations. They all have determined that the vast majority of us are not 100% honest in a typical day. Whether we say a polite fib to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or if we embellish a story a little, most of us fudge the truth to some degree. That said, most people are trustworthy and we can have faith that most of what they say and write is mostly truthful. If we have some doubts, we can fact-check their statements.
Unfortunately, there are people who lie much more frequently than most folks. Compulsive and pathological liars have been with humanity probably as long as our species has been around. We are familiar with pathological liars because they distort the truth or share disinformation. They do this as a way to manipulate us in order to attain a goal or get what they want from us. The compulsive liar, communicates lies because they have made a habit of dishonesty. Their habit is so strong that the compulsive liar has little or no control over their lying. The compulsive liar often seems to tell lies for no reason at all.
Pathological and compulsive liars are sprinkled throughout society. We have individuals like disgraced former President Richard Nixon and garden variety types we might meet face to face in public.
Behaviorists claim that many fraudulent individuals become compulsive liars due to fear. Some compulsive liars are afraid of rejection by others. When the lies multiply, the compulsive liars are afraid of people discovering the lies. In other cases, people lie in order to inflate the perception of desirability. This type of dishonesty runs rampant on dating sites and in social media. We soon learn to take what we read and hear on these types of Websites with a grain of salt.
Behaviorists say that compulsive liars often have self-esteem problems. The lies begin in childhood. The kid might not be as smart as her peers or she might be embarrassed about her physical appearance. In an effort to compensate for her perceived faults she makes misstatements. This behavior easily becomes habitual. So whenever her self-esteem is threatened, she lies at higher and higher levels.
There are books and videos that tell us how to detect compulsive and pathological liars. There are certain techniques we can use to detect fibs told by ordinary people. I’m not a behaviorist nor an expert, so I won’t list any of them in this short blog post. Everyone reading this has access to Google and other search engines. You can find resources galore about lie-detecting, elsewhere on the Web.
The point of this writing exercise is to mention how absolutely essential honesty is as an ingredient for a truly successful and happy life. When we pair honesty with integrity as habitual thinking and behavior, we have a solid foundation for a well-lived life. The best news is that everybody has the wherewithal to develop honesty and to work towards integrity. The goal being to positively, constructively integrate all areas of our lives.
When we finally realize that most other people don’t give a hoot about us anyway, we understand that lying to boost our self-esteem or perceived status is an act of vanity. Dishonesty is not only a waste of our time, but most people couldn’t care less about our identity or façades in the first place. Everyone else is pretty much caught up in their own issues, so they don’t have much time to worry about us. When we realize this, it’s easier to just live an honest life and let the chips fall as they may.
I learned this lesson first-hand by coming to terms with who I am and how I tried to fool people around me for many years. When I came out of the closet as LGBT, my life became much easier. After all, being closeted is a type of dishonesty. I certainly was not living a life of integrity. There was always a niggling fear that I would be discovered and outed. I simply got tired of the dishonesty and decided to come out.
To discard that much dishonesty is an exhilarating, liberating experience. People who have decided to come clean with who they are, regardless of identity, behavior, and past history, LGBT or not, say the same thing. We come to authentically realize that honesty really is the best policy. When the time is right and the situation is safe, living honestly cultivates personal integrity.
To be honest, I guess I was a little preachy today. I got a little carried away. I’m sorry for the little fib.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, Lao Tze. “Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest to those who are honest, and be also honest to those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained.”