You’re Pants Are On Fire
Why do humans lie? The damage it can cause seems so unnecessary when honesty will do just fine.
Yet we all do it to one degree or another – verbally, with the masks we wear, the guards we protect ourselves with, even with the thoughts, feelings and knowledge we withhold. And we can of course lie to ourselves as well via intrusive thoughts, assumptions, unconscious biases, self-doubt and trauma (to name but a few).
Call them old-fashioned, but in Monster’s experience honesty is always the best policy. No matter how difficult something may be to say, that short term discomfort prevents much worse over the long term, both for self and others, paling that fear of speaking the truth into insignificance.
In contrast, dishonesty is the gateway to a menagerie of fuckery, with the potential to devastate and self-sabotage.
Knowing this, why the fuck do any of us bother?!
You’d think it was that straightforward, but actually, as we humans are so wondrously diverse, it’s a matter of perspective – you could easily flip those two synopsises around, truth becomes devastating and the act of dishonesty pals into insignificance by comparison. It all depends whether the lie being told is white or black. Well intentioned or malicious (purely for personal gain).
It’s a strange phenomenon – despite our values, it seems that dishonesty is a natural setting we all have the capacity for, an unconscious switch in our humanity, while in general most of us fight for honesty, people can quite easily set their own pants on fire, sometimes even denying that those very pants are indeed on fire. But why? What the fuck is going on?
Historically we humans lean towards avoiding fessing up or admitting fault because of issues with pride or a desire to avoid feelings of shame. Shame is a very painful and powerful emotion, when uncovered it can expose our most intimate vulnerabilities. The worst of the worst shit we feel inside. I’m all for honesty and believe it’s something we all need to encourage and practice, yet it’s understandable why people could instinctively want to avoid feeling shameful, especially if it’s of a particularly unsavoury variety. Something that’s influenced by our early life experiences and so highly unconscious.
We can also feel a sense shame within ourselves when we violate the values we believe in, when we’re not true to ourselves. Which includes when we flip a fiberoo (assuming honesty is a value we believe in).
So it starts to seem counter-productive – the idea that lying is a way of avoiding shame, creating an inner conflict between our values and our deepest feelings. Truth actually provides positive emotional benefits. Not only to those who receive it but to those who give it as well. Which highlights the significance and potential power of shame as an emotion. Because if the truth can improve our sense of self, earn us trust and respect from others, diminishing shame and creating healthier relationships and perception of self, which of course we all want, why would we still lie?
The latter sounds solidly more preferable, meaning the need to avoid shame must be that much more powerful than the need to be honest in certain circumstances. Suddenly it becomes clear that honesty and dishonesty is far from clear.
Even with best intentions and a value system grounded in authenticity and being honest – the truth still evades. Let’s face it – sometimes the truth hurts, people can’t handle it, we can’t handle it, and actually, some truths are better left unsaid because its simply not worth it for anyone. There can also be selflessness and kindness in telling a porky-pie.
Whether conscious or unconscious, honesty vs dishonesty is a choice balanced between the benefit to self and benefit to others. Self-preservation and preservation for others. There-in lies the dangerous line we humans traverse when it comes to lying – an assumption that we know what’s best. Whether we choose to speak the truth or a lie, it’s a decision we make for ourselves and for others, so it’s a choice loaded with emotion, survival, control and power, with the potential for good or bad.
It all depends on us – so we’d better make damn sure our values are sound and our intentions are good – or be prepared to accept the inevitable consequences.
What’s actually behind a lie?
It’s theorised that lies are balanced between the benefit to self and benefit to others as mentioned. From black lies (selfish – boooo) to white lies (selfless – yay!), with that debatable yet generally acceptable grey area in-between. It’s not always easy to tell the difference which is where trouble arises – the unknown – and the responsibility and power of the one lying becomes apparent.
Most of the lies the average human tells are unconscious, it happens without thinking, before we get to correct ourselves and say what we (our conscience) perhaps really wants to say – the truth. These have self-preservation attached, but also best intentions for others and so fall into the ‘grey lie’ area. There are of course shades to this grey area too but these types of lies are generally considered ‘okay’ because it benefits both parties relatively equally…which is still a matter of perspective. Whilst a lie is purely about the person telling it, there is always another person (or multiple people) who are equally involved and affected.
Then there’s the more malicious end of the scale where it’s not uncommon to find people abusing their power, justifying and excusing a lie as ‘protecting others’ (benefit to us) when actually they’re only protecting themselves (benefit to them). Without knowing the truth, the receiver has no choice but to take their word for it – which is as controlling and potentially abusive as it gets.
Politicians are a prime example of this but it happens all around us – it’s about power and control. The trouble is, a lot of the time this justification is as transparently bullshit as the lie itself, especially if the person on the receiving end is ‘compos mentis’, which most of us are. Self-preservation often comes first by default, so it’s nothing to do with the recipients best interest when it comes to black lies.
In this instance, there is potential for further downfall, as the more people get away with or believe what they’re doing is right and in the ‘best interest’ of others, the more pathological it becomes. Do I even need to offer up old Trumpy Boy as an example of this in action? (Didn’t think so).
When we boil down to it, in its most basic form, lying is a default survival mechanism that our brain calls upon when we feel threatened. Something we use to protect ourselves and others if we’re that way inclined. Which may well be valid, but it may not be, and instead be influenced by unconscious bias, a trauma trigger or past experience. Trauma can create a lot of shameful feelings in us, meaning our defences are higher in certain scenarios that relate to that trauma.
As our survival instincts are heightened so too is our unconscious (or conscious) ability to deceive as part of our defence mechanisms. Whilst understandable, it’s something we need to mindful of and work on within ourselves, because as innocent as it may be to us, deceit has the potential to wreak havoc both in ourselves and those around us.
When we lie as kids its our parents who teach us the consequence of our actions. How they handle our misbehaviour and what we subconsciously pick up from how they do that, not only with us but with other people too, and each other. These early lessons influence our own perspectives and inform our subconscious instincts. We are all (in part) a product of environment after all.
As we get older though we become more accountable for ourselves and make our own decisions about who we want to be, forming our values in the process, so any form of dishonesty is more problematic. We can’t simply justify or excuse it away like we did as kids when we raided that biscuit tin before dinner – it isn’t a case of ‘Phew I got away with that’ anymore and we can’t blame our environment either because we’re our own person now. We actually don’t have a choice in this because we’re more aware of ourselves the older we get, so we feel guilty, even shameful when we’re dishonest. Which can trigger our subconscious learnings or trauma related feelings of shame.
When we’re dishonest the guilt arrives and we beat ourselves up. That guilt pulls on our conscience and either ends up with us holding our hands up and swallowing our pride or we avoid it and it turns into shame and eats away at us, potentially sabotaging ourselves and the world around us. Honesty, truth, apologies – these things pay dividends – acting on our guilt in a positive way provides emotional benefits to us as well as our relationships with others. It promotes growth, gratitude, self-respect, self-worth and trust – we feel good – actively helping prevent shame becoming a burden to carry – the very thing we try to do by not acting on our guilt.
To feel guilty is a good thing, it’s the real us checking in. Presenting an opportunity to decide who we want to be and go against our subconscious programming or the negative feelings we have about ourselves. It’s kind of like self-care and self-love in action.
That’s the nub of The Monster theory that ‘honesty is the best policy’ - it’s not just about care and respect for others but for ourselves too. It’s a win win.
Honesty is the best policy
Honesty itself requires a sense of safety and trust to flourish, which doesn’t always come easy. Those things can take time to build and feel, not only within ourselves but particularly in relationships with others. Especially if our guards are strong ones. Ironically, the more honesty there is the more we feel safe and trusting. It’s a classic chicken and egg scenario – which comes first? Honesty or trust? It’s a mystery because honesty, trust and feeling safe are so symbiotic. It comes down to the old chestnut that is ‘a leap of faith’. A conscious decision about who we want to be. That faith is more assured when we ourselves are.
When we lie, we cause damage to others and ourselves, risking the very relationships we have. When we’re lied to we get an appreciation of what that damage feels like. The role of the person in our lives, their closeness to us and how we feel about them determines the level of hurt and subsequent emotions we feel. With that in mind we can use that empathy to guide our choices toward a more honest and loving approach to life.
There are many reasons we lie, the root to shame we feel will often be linked to childhood or trauma where our most vulnerable parts reside. We should be mindful of this when we find ourselves leaning towards a lie, withholding or biting our tongue. It’s on us to understand why and work to resolve these traits if we want to have healthier relationships.
Challenging ourselves is the only way we’ll get to the bottom of it and find ways to deep breath that shame we feel and choose honesty, love and mutual respect instead. It feels good to be honest, especially with ourselves, it opens up a path to inner peace. Leaving the world in a better place with our authentic self.
Honesty truly is the best policy – Even if the truth is hard to say, most people (especially those who love us) are understanding as fuck and would rather have the truth over a lie any day of the week. We should endeavour to give people that respect, our reward will undoubtedly be theirs for us in return. Along with their trust.