You remember Aesop’s fable of the boy who cried wolf?
The tale is about a shepherd boy who repeatedly tricks nearby villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock. Twice he cries wolf and to his amusement the villagers run up to see if they can help only to find out it’s a false alarm. Then one day a wolf actually does appear and the boy cries wolf. Nobody comes. They believe it’s another false alarm. His flock is scattered and many are eaten by the wolf. Later in his despair he says “hey there was a wolf and nobody came”.
The moral of this story is “this shows how liars are rewarded: even if they tell the truth no one believes them”.
I was traveling this week in the great state of North Carolina. Three days of sales calls and the theme of truth came up over and over. So much, that I felt it was meant to manifest in my life somehow. It might sound contradictory that “selling” and “truth telling” go hand in hand but they actually do.
I have a vendor who has this great ability to be truthful. He tells it like it is. Fear of losing the deal has no place in his mind. He describes our services, our capabilities, and how using our services will make our client themselves, a better vendor. Partnered with our clients as a team, we are second to none. How we conduct ourselves and our business is the key to winning the deal. Nothing less than honestly in our dealings is acceptable.
In our meeting he looked at the table of eight, six of which are clients and said, "there is only one thing that will get an employee terminated on the spot from our company and that is lying. If I am lied to by an employee about a project, they are immediately terminated". He continued by saying "if you can tell one small lie then you can tell a bigger one. Lying has no place in our business". I believed him. So did everyone else at that table. We could have been selling dog poop at that point but by God you sure would know it was dog poop!
After the meeting the client brought truth up again. He said, “I always say there is only one story to the truth” and that would be the actual truth. I interpreted his remarks as many stories can be told, but at the end of the day the truth is the truth.
On my drive home a friend called and we were catching up. I brought this up and said man, I just need to find more trustworthy people in my life. (I have a few) and he said, “Don’t we all”. As I reflected on that I thought, what an interesting thing to say. Maybe we all deal with truth telling and lying much more than we realize.
It got me thinking...hmmm. What is a lie? According to the dictionary it is a false statement made with a deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.
Sounds pretty ominous to me. It feels heavy, dark and underhanded.
Meet our friend Pinocchio. The more he lied the more his nose grew. Wouldn’t it be something if that happened in real life? Then we would know. We would probably go cross eyed looking at our own noses.
Okay, let's get real. Have I ever lied? Oh yeah-for sure. I have done it all. From exaggerating the truth to make the story better, to saying I was somewhere I wasn’t, to lying to people I love, but mostly to myself. Telling myself things I wanted to believe but they just weren’t true. I rationalized and justified almost all of it. Any time you are rationalizing and justifying rest assured, you may need to rethink your position. Thinking back on some of the lies I have told I am embarrassed by the things I said I thought would be believed.
However, because of these things, in more recent years I am aware this is not the way to move in the world. I now observe myself and other people; I am learning. I have been educated through the school of hard knocks because I have been repeatedly lied to by someone I was close to, and know what it feels like. Frankly, it feels pretty bad. It takes time to heal. It feels pretty crappy that the big lies are so obvious, sometimes you say to yourself “Does this person really think I am that unworthy of the truth”? Man I feel sorry for them and then I feel sorry for me.
In the second half of my life, I am valuing the truth and the people who tell it. I have some excellent role models in this regard. I also value the people who have the ability to forgive my untruths and have shown me mercy. Especially when it doesn’t seem deserved. It is radical kindness.
There was a metaphysician from the 1920’s named Florence Scovel Shinn, we’ll call her Flo.
Flo wrote a book titled “The Game of Life”. She speaks of life as a boomerang and what you put out there in word and deed comes back to you with astounding accuracy. She says “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.”
“If he gives hate, he will receive hate; If he gives love, he will receive love; if he gives criticism, he will receive criticism; if he lies he will be lied to; if he cheats he will be cheated. Whatever a man does or says will sooner or later be externalized in his affairs.” Whoa. Makes me think twice.
Why do we lie? We lie because we do not want to face the consequences of telling the truth. We are afraid of not being liked, of being left, afraid of losing our jobs, afraid of losing friendships, afraid of what telling the truth may in fact look like. We are afraid of what we may hear in response. We lie when our security feels threatened, when we feel backed up against a wall. The fact is we have a choice. We can lie our way out or we can be people of character and face the situation or demons whatever they are.
Seriously? It’s exhausting to lie. To keep up with the untruths and all that entails. Lying basically strips us of our self-respect. It is setting the bar low because its the easy thing to do. If we set the bar low, we don't have to step up and do the right thing. Because doing the right thing requires effort, choice and character. We cause damage to the people to whom we lie. We know it and we feel guilty. Then sadness and depression hit. The next thing you know we are lying on the therapist couch paying $150.00 an hour for a deep dive into why we ended up where we are.
Maybe we need to go back to the source. Our own behavior, how we make decisions and what those decisions are based on. We need to look at the person in the mirror. That is the person we need to fix.
We end up getting found out anyway. Then we are discovered to be the liar we are. We are embarrassed, humiliated and now we have to earn trust back. Only to be continually questioned about whether or not we continue to lie. We hope for a merciful response. We have to be accountable. Frankly? Most people don’t want to work that hard. It is difficult to be accountable. It requires effort and sacrifice. At that point it is not about us, its about the person, people or situations that we did not consider when we lied. Do we blame people for not trusting us when we are actually telling the truth? I hope not. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to forgive.
When I arrived home after my trip I thought again about whether the “truth conversations” were brought into my path. I think they were and I am grateful for clarity from people whom I respect. I read an article called “The lost art of relationship” and I quote, “the reason lying and disrespecting another individual will not be tolerated, is because they are both self-serving and because either one can destroy the relationship between two people". Ask yourself if it is worth destroying the trust between you and a close friend, a family member or a partner over acts of defiance, lack of trust, or desire to avoid a messy confrontation”.
My answer to that question is a resounding NO. It is absolutely not worth it.
My final thoughts are maybe we need to live our lives honestly. Say what we mean and mean what we say, with kindness and with love. Even if it’s ugly, even if it hurts, even if you have to show a vulnerable side of yourself you would rather not show. The second half of life is about living the truthful life, the authentic life and finding like-minded folks to join you on the journey. Those people are out there.
I’ll end with a quote from Hafez a well known Persian poet. (Rumi and Hafez are two of my favs)
“What we speak becomes the house we live in”.
Until next time,