Why we hate being honest and what to do about it.

I scanned the beach. I knew I wanted to say it, but I was really scared. What if she took it the wrong way? I didn’t want to come off as attacking, and I didn’t want to push her away. Perhaps some things were better left off limits or unsaid. Then I thought to myself — this is my wife…why do I have to play all the intellectual games of just saying what I want to say??

The topic I was going to bring up with her isn’t nearly as relevant as the ongoing practice of attempting honesty. I am probably the wrong person to write about this as honesty isn’t one of my natural strong suites or character traits.

If I say I’m going to be somewhere, I might cancel and pretend something came up last minute. If I deny things, I might not have been as innocent as I claim.

Am I proud of it? No, not really. But at least I can admit it.

I’ve learned over my life that sometimes, oftentimes, it’s easier to lie. Not telling the truth saves you from the emotional blowback, consequences, or hard work of doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. For me at least, it was a survival method instead of a tactic — and something that locked me more in a box than freed me in the long term.

It’s such a dark thing — our society is built on trust. If we can’t trust our friends, our institutions, our therapists, spiritual guides, spouses, friends — where would we be? But, because we feel like we can trust and understand everyone in our world that we get the propensity to twist the truth for ourselves to keep our equilibrium and make sure everyone likes us. It’s that trust in our dentist, and that he’s actually a dentist, that we can look him in the eyes and say “Yes! Of course, I floss every day.”

If I don’t lie, I would have to work harder or make tougher decisions instead of hold out and learn how to spin what actually happened. As a person of principle and a Jew, I actively want to change how I have become. Once you have learned how not to be honest, you lock yourself in a cage where it comes a lot easier to distort reality than to stand up for the truth.

And what’s waiting for you in the cage of dishonesty is spending more time trying to figure out how to spin your story, or how to calculate where everything you say is going to go or lead you, instead of just being there and being open.

Again, I’m not suggesting for one second that we don’t have reasons for why we lie. Being called out, failing, and making stupid decisions are part and parcel of life, and we don’t want anyone, from our coworkers, to our spouses, to our kids saying to us, “hey, that was a selfish move!” or “That was hypocritical!”

G-d’s seal, the rabbis tell us, is truth. Coming clean. Making mistakes and starting over. Oftentimes it is that shame and the consequences of our actions that reinforce in our minds which actions should not be repeated. But the biggest consequence of not being honest is that it gets easier and much more nuanced. It’s not just about the things you did wrong, it becomes about how you are feeling. “I feel fine!” we lie. “It’s cool, just do what you want.” We lie again. “No, that didn’t hurt my feelings.” LIES! ALL LIES!

Eventually, we go down the road of the ultimate lie; self-delusion. We don’t even know what we think anymore, or what we need or want. It goes back into the loop, the game, of looking good, pretending we are someone or something else, and opting for the comfort of disconnection or self-soothing distraction (see Netflix, or something a little less socially acceptable) instead of recognizing our issues. We lie to ourselves about our diet, we lie to ourselves about our work ethic, we lie to ourselves about our flaws — because we’ve calculated that telling the truth will hurt, and then we fail to change anything…we just thicken our cloud of dishonesty.

On the other side, there is freedom. There may be the sting of hurting someone’s feelings, or looking uncertain and weak, or admitting you have a problem. But despite that, there is a humanity in your weakness, even if you don’t like to admit it. We justify our bad behaviors by saying “I’m only human,” but if we could use this as a stepping stone to admitting short coming, we’d get a lot further.

More than anything, starting to tell the truth is somewhat refreshing. It doesn’t mean you’ll do it all the time. But when you say something, you feel actually understood. People might appreciate your honesty. You might appreciate your honesty. And the temporary suffering of coming out and saying it is tempered and might just go away when the person you are talking to hears you, considers what you said, and shares your honesty in their response.

Imagine a world without the lies.