Why is it so Easy to Lie?
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky
As I read the caption “disgraced” under Lance Armstrong’s photo documenting the interview of him finally admitting to drug use throughout his notorious cycling career, I wondered if he would walk away finally relieved of the enormous burden of his deceit or in the planning stages of his next role as the repentant star. Now, after 13 years of denials and false accusations, there is no simple truth that he can share that will reckon the years of aggressive manipulation of the truth in which a single lie became an extravagant lifestyle that he forced onto everyone and everything he touched. Apologies at this late juncture feel puny and almost like adding insult to injury. What we want instead when people are finally willing to speak the truth is a true reflection on the whys; a window into the slippery slope of lies that consume us whole.
We all know the lure of lies in our own lives. We are surprised by the ease with which small untruths are spread, either by omission or via a quick nod. We all know the inconvenience that the truth can provoke, and the weighted choices between what we want, what is expedient and what is truthful. We have all experienced the profound challenge of truth telling in our most intimate encounters. Cheating and lying enter our lives as soon as our imagination comes alive. I still remember one of the first times my son, who at the time was three, held freshly baked cookies behind his back assuring me he didn’t take any. Little did he know that the evidence was smeared across his cheek. Even then I wondered about how we lean towards lies and what pulls us back to the truth.
In part, it is our own daily dance around truth that makes judging Lance Armstrong so easy. In part, when we get the truth, we want to see remorse. We expect lies admitted to carry as much weight as the betrayal cost the believer. In addition, our love/hate fixation on celebrities makes their wrongdoing that much more wrong. Armstrong is not alone; he is surrounded by dozens of business, athlete and entertainment stars whose apologies are used more for paving a way into their next act, than an actual reinvention of oneself. The latter is the point of telling the truth- to come closer to one’s authentic self.
For most of us it is the emotional dissonance that is created when we live in the space between truth and lies that is enough to keep us striving towards an authentic life. Unfortunately, once one is committed to a single untruth, it takes almost no time at all for something in our minds to switch on that makes living a lie not only possible, but comfortable. This kind of pathological lying grows from everyone falling victim to the deception. After the tragic losses associated with the multi-billion dollar Madoff deception, many of us are left scratching our heads, in disbelief that we didn’t see the warning signs. Sometimes, we realize that we were too easily victimized by liars by our own unwillingness to see the truth.
One of the most common and most deeply wounding deceptions that plays out in millions of relationships happens in the lying behaviors that surround infidelity. Survivors of infidelity will often say that there were so many signs they didn’t want to see. Emotional betrayals of this intensity wreak havoc with the one’s ability to trust one self. I remember this myself when, years ago, I discovered a long time office manager and friend was embezzling money for more than a year. Meanwhile, every day she came in with a smile on her face and spoke about raising kids, as she was committing this misdeed. What took the longest to recover from was my inability to trust my own judgment.
George Orwell once wrote: “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Living life truthfully is revolutionary not only in the way that it changes the world around us but even more so about how it changes us. Focusing our energy on living authentically, owning our feelings and expressing them even when it is painful, turns us into reliable sensors for the truth around us. Getting out of the storyline in our heads makes us less susceptible to getting pulled into other people’s story lines. Truth when practiced vigilantly is like waking up another sense; we can smell a lie, we notice how people cannot hold a gaze. The dissonance between truth and untruth becomes a barometer to guide us. Living a life aligned with your own truth is the gate to your best self and a path towards lasting relationships that will hold you.