Okay. Here’s one of my favorite topics. And one I struggle with as much as the next guy.
When I was growing up, I had a natural tendency to tell the truth, always. I was brought up with that ethic and it felt quite natural to me. But at some point, as I observed my peers and the adults around me, and I began watching movies and programs on television, I soon learned that not everyone shared that point of view.
Indeed, when I saw how things really worked in the world, I soon came to the conclusion that the smart guys were the ones who had a creative relationship with the truth. Certain things just sort of worked better and a bit easier when the truth was shaved a bit.
Everyone knows that. Right?
Well, yes. And, no. It’s correct that things may initially go a little easier when you “shave” the truth, but there is always a price we pay. There is this slow ebbing of self esteem and self love that begins to accrue over time. We begin to form the internal opinion of ourselves that we are not exactly trustworthy. And after a while, we begin to project that mistrust out onto others, and onto the world at large.
And with mistrust comes a certain tension. You know, stress. And it begins to calcify: in our thoughts; in our emotions; in our behaviors; in our beliefs; in our body.
So what does telling the truth have to do with reducing stress? The short of it is, everything! Telling the truth truly promotes a sense of well-being. And anything that does that also reduces stress.
Behaviorists tell us that lying may be innate to the human species. It comes about for two genetically programmed reasons: to receive rewards and/or to avoid punishment.
For some of us, whether or not we lie depends on our calculation of the reward/punishment equation. This is called “situational honesty.” But because most of us are taught by our parents that lying is wrong, it always creates stress … whether or not we consciously recognize it.
Some lies create only a little internal conflict and negligible stress. For example, when we tell “white lies” (“Boss, I really love that psychedelic necktie.”), it might create little or no internal conflict. But when we lie about something that is more meaningful to us— spousal infidelity for example— we are likely to feel a great deal of stress.
If we can become aware of and move beyond the reward/punishment paradigm, we might begin to experience that telling the truth, in all situations, actually makes us feel good. We would begin to feel we are in sync with some larger purpose and that there is something true and good about our life and the way we are living it.
So here’s your challenge. As one of my teachers once said, strive to tell the truth, always. If that is something that doesn’t come easily to you, begin the practice of telling the truth in your most intimate relationships: with your significant other; with your children; with your family; with your closest friends.
Then expand that circle of truth to include your co-workers, neighbors, and community. Feel free to use tact and diplomacy when appropriate, but don’t let fear of giving offense get in the way of telling the truth, always.