Most people when facing a decision are intelligent enough to know exactly which is the right path to take. By “right path”, generally, I mean the one that will lead to long-term happiness. The reason they don’t take that path is because it’s often the harder one, the one requiring greater effort, greater cost.
That’s how lies are born. Being honest about anything (from small to big) often requires upsetting the comfortable peace between you and another person. In the moment, that cost might not seem worth paying, but over time, it adds up… Your brain gets desensitized to lying. White lies turn into major lies to strangers, to loved ones, to yourself. That’s the argument Sam Harris makes in his book Lying. It’s a short book that argues for complete honesty. I agree with that ideal, and have improved dramatically over the past several years on this front.
Here are some examples of white lies (and grey ones) from top of my head, just to give you an idea of what kind of enemy we’re up against here:
- Passing pleasantries: Smiling warmly when you are indifferent towards a person, or worse, actually don’t like them.
- Over-complimenting: Telling people they are great when are just okay. This reminds me of Charles Bukowski (from his book “Women”) talking about coming across a poet who he thought was actually not terrible like most others he met, but he couldn’t tell him just that because most people wouldn’t take “not terrible” as a compliment.
- Physical attributes: Lying about your age, weight, height, shoe size, penis size, breast size, etc.
- Sex: Lying about how many partners you slept with, had relationships with, loved.
- To children: Lying about the tooth fairy, Santa Claus.
- Reasons to not hang out: Saying “I’m tired” when you’re going out with someone else, or saying “I have other plans” when you’re tired and just want to stay in.
- Reasons for breaking up: Stringing things along (for weeks, months, years) with half-truths, instead of just saying: “Hey, it’s over.”
There are much more, but you get the idea. These are all common lies, and are easy to justify as they appear harmless in the moment. But they are not harmless. The main argument for not lying that speaks to my values is the following… Telling a lie (small or big) misses an opportunity to build a closer relationship. I found this to be very true in my own life, that telling the truth about something that most people lie about makes for a better friendship and a closer connection (even with a stranger). The truth revealed could be about sex, personal flaws, physical attributes, controversial opinions, etc.
Here’s the tricky thing though. Telling the truth has to be done artfully. You have to have good conversational skills. Otherwise, you just come off as a rude asshole, and instead of building a closer connection with someone, you push them away. This is a tough one for an introvert like myself, who spends far more time reading, writing, and programming, than I do talking to real-life human beings. But, on the bright side, I’ve long ago realized that I don’t have much to lose. We’re all going to be dead soon, might as well play the game to the best of our ability, without paralysing doubt and hesitation.