Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why We Lie

Can you identify someone in your life who uses language carelessly, who agrees to things readily but then never seems to be able to show up for his or her agreements? Do you know individuals who spend a lot of their time speaking about things they have no experience with — who have plenty of opinions but little real, applicable knowledge to back it up? Do you have friends who frequently gossip or who say dis empowering things about themselves? These are some of the common ways that people deprive themselves of the potential power of speech.

Language is meant to power our dreams into physical reality. When we “spend” our language on half-baked ideas, or passionate views we may have heard about but have no direct experience with, when we use language destructively or we say things we don’t really mean, we lose personal power. Personal power comes from being in integrity and diminishes whenever our integrity is undermined. Unfortunately, very few of us are taught the skills of using language as an integrity-building force.

White Lies

To find the roots of our dishonesty with ourselves, we need only look as far as our cultural patterns around language and lies. Most of us consider ourselves good people. We recycle our cardboard, give to charity and generally try to do the right thing when we have the opportunity. Yet most nice people also lie quite frequently. Why is that? And how has that become acceptable behavior?

The dictionary describes the word “lie” in the following way: v 1. to say something that is not true in a conscious effort to deceive somebody, 2. to give a false impression; n 1. a false statement made deliberately, 2. a false impression created deliberately.

In all four of these descriptions, one thing stands out clearly: that lying is something we do deliberately — that our purpose for lying is to intentionally deceive. Obviously, this type of activity seems at odds with being “nice.” How is it that we can consider ourselves good people and include lying? We may think our lying is for a good reason: to keep from hurting someone’s feelings, to smooth over conflict or to make someone happy. After all, what does it hurt to tell a little white lie every once in a while?

What lying does, as a rule, is to create multiple realities. When you lie, reality splits — it “dis-integrates.” You now have one reality that you know and live in, knowing the “truth” about a particular issue, and the reality that the people to whom you’ve lied live in, which is designed around somewhat or totally different information. The people to whom you have lied make decisions and choices based on the reality they inhabit, but it’s a different reality than the one you inhabit, so that split will now influence your relationship and your common future.

Presumably, you told the white lie to make these other people’s reality “nicer,” but you probably also told it to make your reality more comfortable (i.e., by lying, you avoided “feeling bad,” disappointing them or being the bearer of bad news). The problem is, you are creating this potentially huge disintegration without having any real way of knowing what the repercussions of that reality-split will be down the road. You can’t know how this separate reality might circle back in the future, and you can’t really know whether the net outcome for this other person will be better or worse than the course of the reality that might have resulted if you had told the truth. All you can know for sure is that you’ve now created a rift in a continuum of both your own and these other people’s lives, and you’ve taken charge, if even in a small way, of designing someone else’s reality.

The more lies you tell, of course, the more multiple realities you create and must live with. That’s an enormous responsibility, and it can also be energy draining, because it literally costs you integrity — the state of being connected, sound, consistent and undivided.

When enough “white lies” are floating around in your midst, your integrity becomes fractured. You may feel pulled in a thousand directions, and unable to make decisions without the fear that all these “custom made” realities could come crashing down around you. You may also not feel like you fully know or trust yourself at times.

Resurrecting Honesty

In his book, The Four Agreements (Amber-Allen Publishing, 1997), author and Toltec wise man don Miguel Ruiz presents a simple but profound code of personal conduct based on adhering to four basic principles or “agreements.” The very first agreement is “Be Impeccable With Your Word.”

The word impeccable comes from the Latin im, meaning “without,” and pecatus, which means “sin.” So impeccable (which we generally think of as meaning “perfectly clean”) really means “without sin.” According to Ruiz, to sin is to go against yourself, in word or in deed. To speak something other than your highest choice and truth is a form of fragmentation.

In the first section of The Four Agreements, he advises: “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

Those are wise words, and they provide the basis for personal integrity. But if we accept that all of us are already wandering around in slightly different realities (thanks to each having access to different knowledge and experience), what is truth, really? How can we be sure we are speaking it, and speaking it with full integrity? How can we know when we are simply telling the truth, and when we are gossiping or talking out of turn?

At one time or another, most of us have been on the receiving end of someone who just had to “speak his or her truth,” but who also seemed to have had an agenda about making us wrong, guilt-tripping us or hurting our feelings. We’ve been in situations where someone says something totally inappropriate or unkind and then uses, “Well, it’s true!” as an excuse.

Insisting on speaking the whole truth and nothing but the truth all the time doesn’t seem practical or wise; it seems reckless and undiscerning. This is where we need to come back and revisit that last, very important bit of Ruiz’s counsel: “Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

That might mean love for another person, but it also means love of the greater good, for a principle or fundamental truth. Sometimes you may have to speak up in a way that hurts or angers someone close to you but that you feel is necessary for the benefit of a larger group or purpose. And yes, sometimes it means you may elect not to share a particular truth out of care or respect for another person. The intersection of love and truth is a complex territory. What you need is a personal code of integrity that you can live with and be proud of.

You will find yourself to be a much happier person when your words match your intentions and when your actions match your words. You will find yourself sleeping better when there are no niggling half-truths keeping you awake at night.

As your word becomes more and more powerful, your reality will begin to reflect that. As you speak from a place of integrity, and use powerful language in the service of your highest choices, you will start to manifest those choices very much as you have described them. When that happens, you’ll know you are on the right path and headed in the best possible direction — the direction of your dreams.