“How would your relationships change if you resolved never to lie again? What truths about yourself might suddenly come into view? What kind of person would you become? And how might you change the people around you?” – Sam Harris
I was watching my favourite show Silicon Valley and in one episode Richard, the protagonist, meets a guy named Ben who wants to become the new COO of Richard’s prospering tech company. During the whole episode, Ben humbly brags that he’s practicing “Radical Candour” to Richard. What “Radical Candour” entails, is that you always speak the truth, however uncomfortable it might be. Silicon Valley is a comedy show, and even though the episode was meant to make fun of people using this new buzzword “Radical Candour”, it somehow stuck in my mind.
I was walking around in a library in Den Haag in Holland (my turn to humbly brag) when I spotted Sam Harris’ book “Lying”. (For those of you who don’t know who Sam Harris is, he’s a contemporary philosopher who you should call “gentrified” around your intellectual friends to state dominance). The book is largely about why one should eliminate lying from one’s daily life. Seeing the book reminded me of this buzzword “Radical Candour” from Silicon Valley and it got me thinking about my own candour. Back home, I finally bought the book and asked myself, what do I usually lie about and how often do I do it? And what would happen if I stopped?
I went back memory lane to the days when I was a 6-year-old compulsive liar. These are the lies I remember the most vividly and are the easiest to grasp. My biggest lies were that;
- I had snakes in a huge case in my home.
- I ate horse meat every day.
- My brother was a knight.
- I slept on spikes every night.
Today, I laugh about them for being so strange. I truly had a weird way of flexing in front of my friends. But I also remember those nights when I went to bed as a kid, filled with anxiety and fear that I would be caught in my lies. I remember thinking what would happen if my friends would find out that I had lied and how disappointed my parents would be in me. With maturity, you don’t stop lying, the lies just become more difficult to grasp. Your lies are not only directed to other people anymore, but to yourself too. I decided to be candid and rank my top lies as a 20-year-old as well.
- Saying that “We should get coffee soon”, when I really don’t feel like it.
- Exaggerating my stories, adding false elements, to make them sound better.
- Justifying my unhealthy habits as being temporary and not that grave.
- Not being honest towards how I feel about people.
The book “Lying” by Sam Harris mentions a lot of reasons and arguments why one should completely erase all lying from one’s life. It’s such a dense subject and I don’t think this article will do it justice. However, what I largely took from it and what spoke to me the most is how stop lying simplifies your life and your relationships, with others and especially with yourself. Lying wastes time. Disregarding the truth, making excuses, keeping up with your lies not only toxifies your life, but those of others. The same goes if people stopped lying to you, you would save time and create truer relationships. What happens when we tell white lies? We trust people a little less and especially ourselves.
“But what if I have to lie to a hostile man in order to save billions of lives? Am I not doing a good deed then?” That’s usually the argument people defend lying with, their hypothetical MI6 James Bond scenario where they must stretch their moral barriers for the greater good. Even though I have no doubt all of you would be great emotionally damaged spies who sleep with millions of women without even once getting gonorrhoea, it’s not very likely you will be put in such a moral dilemma and therefore it’s rather the exception than the rule.
However, all mortals will be put into moral dilemmas where the truth can hurt feelings and might not be yours to tell. But as Sam Harris puts it “When we decide to lie for the benefit of others, we have decided that we are the best judges of how they should understand their own lives.” Lying “is to infringe on the freedom of those we care about.”
After having read the book, I decided to live as Sam Harris preached and make an active choice to stop lying to others and especially myself. I directly noticed how small and unnecessary my lies were, for example I lied about when I had dinner, who said what, and several times I had to stop myself from unconsciously telling a lie. But other lies, were a lot tougher to stop myself from saying. I call them the social lies, because the truth would mean discomfort in a social setting.
Practicing “Radical Candour” means telling people the super-duper uncomfortable truths, the ones which create the awkward tensions you could cut with a knife. An example of this is asking people to leave when they’ve overstayed their welcome. There, Sam Harris mentions something called “skilful truth telling”, sparing feelings yet telling the truth. If someone is overstaying their welcome, rather than saying “Hey I really want you to fucking leave right now. What do I look like, a charitable hostel that take care of troubled youth? Jezuz.” maybe try something like, “Hey, I loved having you over, but I am quite exhausted and in need of some alone time.”, instead. I’m not doubting that in the moment it would be uncomfortable, but over time, that person would never doubt if you’re being sincere or not, because they would know that you’re always sincere, however uncomfortable that might be.
Stop lying to people is vital part of being more truthful, but one should not forget to do yourself the same favour. A tool that really helped me being honest towards myself, was writing in my dairy. The truth is, we are no Mother Theresas’, sometimes we will be motivated by extreme insecurities without even knowing. When one is completely honest with oneself, we can notice when we wish others wrong due to our own insecurities. We can also notice that we’re not taking care of ourselves like we should. We might have disregarded the fact that we are stuck in unhealthy habits, or unhealthy relationships. We might have disguised our own unhappiness with dishonest illusions, telling ourselves that we are “fine”.
Living truthfully, not only in my relationships but also to myself, has decluttered my mind immensely. Because the truth is usually simple, it’s the lies that complicate our lives. It makes sense why we don’t want to be honest with ourselves, because that requires and demands change and action from our part. That’s why most of us keep believing our own lies, to not break out of our comfortable routine.
I’m not saying lying will never be beneficial, especially in short transactional meetings or in getting out of uncomfortable situations. However, in the long term, I believe the lies accumulate and your relationship with yourself deteriorates. You have to make a decision, what is the most important; getting away with something in the moment or having a good character.
A study in the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” shows that “38 percent of encounters among college students contain lies.” So what would happen if you stopped lying?
You wouldn’t watch your friend chasing an emotionally unavailable guy, because you gave her false hope when you know he is no good. You wouldn’t watch your sister waste her time pursuing a singing career, because you didn’t have the guts of telling her that her voice is not good enough. You wouldn’t stand your friend up for a coffee date last minute, because you didn’t dare telling her that you haven’t felt for it the whole day. You wouldn’t stay in a toxic relationship, because you’ll be truthful to yourself that it’s hurting you more than doing you good. You wouldn’t have to keep up with a false image you’ve created for yourself, or fear that people don’t love you for you. Because you’ve been truthful from the very start, in every aspect in your life.
I can’t guarantee the world will return you the favour, but at least you will always be true to the world.