What kinds of lies do you tell? Are some better than others? Are ‘white lies’ less egregious? What’s your litmus test?
I’ve discovered three kinds of lies, and they are not distinguished by what we tell others, or even by the severity of the untruth. They are determined by the myths we use to justify the lie.
Lies to avoid conflict
Recently a friend of mine messaged me on Facebook asking if I was free that night. He didn’t give any context, just asked if I was free. I actually was free, but wasn’t sure what he had in mind and was tired from a week of work. I lied to him, telling him I had prior commitments. The lies we tell to avoid conflict are based on the myth, “You can make me feel bad emotionally if you don’t like the truth about me.”
“I’m fine leaving the party early if you want to go now.”
“No, really, I don’t mind Mexican food again.”
“I’d love to join you, but I can’t. I’m already busy.” (when you aren’t busy at all, but you simply don’t want to go out tonight.)
Believing that we must keep others happy in order to be OK, we lie about our wants, needs, boundaries, and feelings in order to avoid conflict.
The crime in this kind of lying is that we defeat ourselves and put our own emotional, psychological, and even physical health at risk.
The solution is to give ourselves these three affirmations so that we can tell the truth:
My needs, feelings and boundaries matter.
I am worthy of pursuing what I want, just like anybody else.
How people respond to me does not define me.
Lies to benefit others
I’m a fan of Sara Bareilles, a singer-songwriter who has a gift for calling bulls#!t on the people who try to steal her self-efficacy. In her breakout song, King of Anything, Bareilles asks, “Who died and made you king of anything?”
Sometimes we tell lies to benefit others, believing we know best, or that we need to protect them from the whole truth, as if we’ve appointed ourselves the purveyor of information, the savior of the world. These lies are based on the myth, “I can make you feel good emotionally by deciding what you need to know.”
“You’re going to be fine. We’ll let you know what’s important.”
“Why, exactly, are you asking so many questions? Don’t you trust me?”
“It’s no coincidence that states with more gun-ownership have lower homicide rates. This is why you should support candidate X for president.”
Believing that we know best, we censor and manipulate the truth while convincing ourselves that it’s for the greater good.
The crime in this kind of lying is that we play God and rob others the chance to learn and grow by thinking and doing for themselves.
The solution is to give ourselves these three affirmations so that we can share all the information and resources that could be helpful and allow others to make their own decisions:
I am smart and capable. Others can be as well, if I let them.
I am most helpful when people ask me first.
I can be a resource for others without doing the thinking for them.
Lies to benefit ourselves
Deception. Attacks. Manipulation. Blaming. These are behaviors of a person who lies to benefit themselves. It’s all about getting the upper hand, winning a fight no matter how dirty you play.
It’s pretty simple. I lie to gain an advantage.
These lies are based on the myth, “I can make you feel bad emotionally and get what I want by giving you false information.”
“You’ll never amount to anything.”
“I don’t know of any emissions recalls on this VW.”
“If you agree with my pro gun-control link on Facebook, share it with everyone you know. If you don’t, you are part of the problem.”
Afraid that we might be wrong or not fully competent, we attempt to lower others to make ourselves feel better. We desperately cling to the hope that if we can intimidate, shame, or deceive others, we can avoid accountability for what’s really inside – usually fear of our inability to protect those we care about.
The crime in this kind of lying is that we degrade the value of all humanity, including our own. By mongering fear we become the terrorist.
The solution is to give ourselves these three affirmations so that we can affirm the goodness in people, and take ownership of our own behaviors:
I am loyal to those I love, and that’s admirable.
By affirming the best in others, I will get their best effort.
Sometimes being effective is better than being right.
The three lies and three crimes are committed by people in Drama. Here’s more about the roles people play in drama.
The truth hurts because telling it means struggling with others to create something new. It’s all about compassionate accountability, one of the most radical alternatives to lying. In our Leading Out of Drama training, we teach people to engage in conflict by identifying hidden truths, negotiating avenues to meet goals, and holding firm to non-negotiable boundaries without attacking or blaming others.
What lies are you telling? What would you gain by being open, resourceful and persistent instead?
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