I just found out that last Saturday, April 30, has been declared National Honesty Day. On one hand, that’s laughable, given our current political climate in which truth and facts are considered malleable as well as debatable. On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly why it’s so important for each of us to take some time to personally explore our own honesty.
Is being truthful with yourself and others an important value to you….to our society? I know we all seem to agree that honesty, and the trust it builds, is the foundation of our relationships and culture but it that just lip-service? I’m asking because I read an article by Hiyaguha Cohen in the Baseline of Health Foundation blog that sites some pretty shocking statistics such as:
In conversation, we’re most likely to lie to our parents (86 percent of the subjects did so), and then to our friends (75 percent).
Mostly, we lie about trivial things that make us look better or that spare the feelings of others. Sure, we’ve all done that. What’s really surprising is how much we do that.
The typical person can’t converse more than 10 minutes without telling a lie. Additionally, the average person lies not just once, but three times every 10 minutes!
Don’t panic. Another study, with 110 participants aged 18 to 71 for a period of 10 weeks, found the average number of lies per person per week was only 11. That still sounds like a lot, right. And what’s so wrong with telling little white lies or exaggerations or strategic omissions that don’t hurt anybody? Turns out, they are bad for your health. Why? Because when we lie, we are withholding from others and distancing from ourselves. The unspoken message is: I’m not safe to be myself. Lying also implies that whomever you’re lying to is also unsafe. Living in an unsafe environment is always stressful and when we lie, we literally reinforce that lack of safety and rob ourselves of the opportunity to experience emotional safety in our relationships.
The prevalence of lying reveals how fearful, manipulative, and defended we are. A 2014 study from the Berkeley Haas School of Business tells us that the impulse to lie in order to protect or gain personal advantage is embedded in the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex region of the brain. So, when it comes to honesty, we are a bit at odds. We’re wired to lie while simultaneously programmed for the love and closeness that grows from authentic connections. The lie response, lying to avoid confrontation, will kick in first unless we consciously override it.
The good news is that, per the American Psychological Association study:
When participants in the no-lie group told three fewer lies than they did in other weeks, they experienced on average about four fewer mental-health complaints, such as feeling tense or melancholy, and about three fewer physical complaints, such as sore throats and headaches. And as an added bonus, subjects also reported reducing the lies improved relationships all around.
Being ourselves requires vulnerability. Being vulnerable is scary. You risk being hurt, misunderstood, humiliated, or hurting someone else, feeling guilty, being rejected. Being vulnerable is also, per Brene Brown, the birthplace of everything we are hungry for.
Now I’m really curious to pay attention to how much I lie. I will be watching for my impulse to fudge the truth in order to smooth things over. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be real. I want to learn how to be honest in ways that inspire everyone around me to feel safe to be authentic as well.
The article also affirms the importance of creating an environment in which children feel safe enough not to lie and are not shamed when they do. What they need is our help in understanding why they felt the impulse to lie. Once they can see and name what happened and why they were afraid, they can start to see the larger consequences and create other options. Honesty can only be built on a foundation of self-esteem. We cannot judge dishonesty and make the child who lies bad. Instead, we need to support them in noticing the impulse and feeling safe enough not to. For children to to build both emotional intelligence and healthy attachments, it’s up to us to become mindful about our own lying such that we can help kids navigate theirs.