“For every good reason there is to lie, there is a better reason to tell the truth.” ~ Bo Bennett
When you catch someone telling a lie, should you give him or her a second chance? Or should you follow the advice of William Shakespeare: “Trust not him that hath once broken faith.”
This question, when approached thoughtfully, is more difficult to answer than it first appears.
When I ask people whether they should give a second chance to someone who tells them a lie, the answers I get range from “absolutely yes” to “absolutely no.”
Other people have developed rules for when to give a second chance and when to cut their losses by getting the person out of their life, or at least out of their box of sensitive secrets.
The answer to the question of what to do when you discover they are lying depends upon how we define the idea of telling lies and telling the truth. So let’s ask the tough questions that are not as easy to answer as they may seem.
What is a lie?
Here’s the dictionary definition: “a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.
Synonyms include prevarication and falsification. Antonyms include truth.
What is the truth?
The dictionary tells us that it is “the true actual state of a matter. That which is really happening or going on. Conformity with the facts or reality.” The the concept of the truth is further clarified as: “the real facts about something: the things that are true: the quality or state of being true: a statement or idea that is true or accepted as true; A statement that is supported by evidence.”
Wow! These are really circular definitions that essentially tell us “the truth is what is true!”
These definitions of truth beg a very important issue: the truth is rarely absolute and is usually relative to what is accepted as truth at the time and the “truth as we see it from our point of view.”
Most of the time to “tell the truth” means to “explain our best understanding given our point of view, the extent of our knowledge, and the currently best known and most widely accepted evidence.”
Honesty and lying are as much about the intent to deceive as it is about giving mistaken information.
If you make an honest mistake in solving a mathematical problem, it is usually not considered a lie. It is a mistake or unintentional error. It might be a lie if you deliberately falsify the answers for some secondary gain.
So, in my opinion, it would make sense to make the distinction between an honest mistake (I believe that what I am saying to be factual or true) and a lie (I know what is true and deliberately try to tell you something else).
I find that most people who tell one lie (i.e tell others that something is true when they know that it is not), tend to tell other lies as well. They use lies as an habitual tool to gain things of value in life or to deny some painful truths.
Sometimes the habitual liar can convince themselves that a lie is actually true. This can be a useful skill if you have to pass a lie detector test. Some people are skilled at catching people who are telling lies. This can be a useful skill to recognize and avoid getting hurt by con men and habitual liars.
Most actively addicted people tell lies about their alcohol and other drug use. They minimize how much they use and try to cover up the damage caused by their use.
Some addicts don’t actually lie, they just block out some aspects of reality so they are intentionally ignorant. This is called being sincerely deluded.
Must alcoholics, for example, never count the number of drinks they have or add up how much money they are spending on alcohol or drugs. They keep themselves willfully or intentionally ignorant in order to avoid facing the truth.
The truth is a continually evolving thing based upon our best understanding at the time. All we can really tell someone is our best understanding of the truth as Wevsee it at the current time and then explain why we believe it to be true (i.e. Present the evidence we have that makes us believe that it is true).
In the everyday world we operate on a common-sense definition of truth.
– I did or did not do this!
– I was or was not at a certain place at a specific time!
– This is what has happened in the past !
– This is what is happening now!
– This is what I believe will happen in the future!
Anyone who tells you they know exactly what will happen in the future is guessing or is sincerely deluded. No one can be certain about the future.
Many people have beliefs without evidence. They accept things are true without any real proof. Every culture teaches thousands of truths, both little and big, that people are supposed to accept as true.
So what should you do if you believe someone is lying to you?
The first step is to ask the question again and make sure you are understanding their answer. Many accusations of telling a lie are based in poor communication and misunderstanding.
Tell the other person very clearly that you don’t believe it is true and present your evidence. Tell them you are open to reconsider if they have better evidence. This gives the people their day in court. They get to describe the “truth as they see it from their point of view.”
Before jumping to conclusions it is helpful to detach, back up, observe, and investigate. The serious problem is not a single lie told in isolation to deal with a specific situation. The most serious problem is the person who uses deceit and dishonesty as a habitual way to cope with life.
If there is a pattern of lying, it is foolish to trust. Many people are habitual liars. In other words they are in the habit of twisting the truth to get what they want.
Trust must be earned. It must be built little by little, one step at a time. When building a relationship, it is best to self-disclose a little bit at a time. If the person responds by self-disclosing at the same level to you, go back a try again. If they continue self-disclose at the level that you are they are, they are probable trustworthy. If they don’t reciprocate, be wary and ask yourself if they are trying to hide something or to get you at a disadvantage by knowing more about you than you know about them.
If what you told them in confidence ends up on the grapevine, run the other way. People who gossip and tell you the secrets of others that were told to them in confidence will almost certainly do the same to you.
Recovery demands a policy of rigorous honesty this means:
– The willingness to look honestly at yourself and your past behavior;
– The intent to be honest by reporting the truth as you believe it to be while acknowledging that “I might be wrong.”
– To promptly admit mistakes and be willing to correct them;
– To look with a critical eye at what you believe and the evidence you have to support that belief; and
– To be willing to act in faith upon your best understanding of the truth until you find new and more compelling evidence that causes you to change your mind.
Rigorous honesty is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. This is because, as fallible human beings we are prone to lie to ourselves and it others. It is also because the truth is hard to find.
LIVE SOBER – BE RESPONSIBLE -LIVE FREE
Don’t miss Terry Gorski’s books and workbooks on recognizing and managing denial.