Honesty is cool.

According to one study [1], 10% of communication in marriage is dishonest.  Another study showed that 38% of interactions between college students were deceptive [2].  And as we all know, 83% of statistics are made up [3].  Why do people lie?  Does everyone do it?  How can we be more honest?

“It’s not a lie if you believe it!”  George Costanza [4]

A friend shared an experience from her temple recommend interview.  She was asked if she was honest in all her dealings, and her honest answer was, “No.  I work in HR.  I’d be fired!” [5] It’s not always possible or even a good idea to avoid lying, particularly in the workplace.  Sometimes in a sales environment we are explaining how the service “should be” rather than how we suspect it really is.  Is aspirational selling lying or just part of doing business?

Although intimacy is overrated.

One criticism I hear from those with doubts is that they feel they have to live a double life or hide who they are at church.[6]  And yet church is supposed to be a place to help one another live the gospel better, not a place for people who are perfect.  Pres. Uchtdorf has noticed that the focus on outward appearance creates issues in our Mormon communities.  He spoke about this type of hypocrisy in his talk about the Potemkin Village at the Priesthood session of General Conference in April.  Whenever we feel pressure to look a certain way to fit in, lying is a temptation, maybe even a given.

“The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.”  Samuel Butler

Many people lie as a social lubricant, without even thinking about it. Underlying motives can include:

  • Insecurity
  • To avoid rejection
  • To make others feel good
  • To avoid consequences
  • To protect others
Well said, Abe.

Despite these seemingly pro-social reasons to lie, lying creates distance in our relationships.  We are deliberately rejecting this person as not worthy of our intimacy or not able to handle our truth.  We lose respect for those whom we deceive because the mind needs to be right; when our actions are wrong, it’s important to feel we can blame the other person rather than accept the idea that we are acting badly.

And yet, in a highly conformist culture, there is great pressure to hide the aspects of yourself that are unique.  This creates dissonance for those who prize authenticity and who see conformity as encouraging dishonesty.  Authenticity in its present form is a relatively recent virtue, one that came to the fore as backlash against the questionable virtue of duty.  Simplistically, you could see duty as putting the needs of others or the community above the individual, while authenticity places self-expression above the community; someone erring on the side of duty might call authenticity selfish.

Authenticity would say that if you don’t fit, say you don’t fit rather than faking it.  If you disagree, you don’t pretend you agree.  Instead of being who others seem to want you to be, you are who you are, and others can accept that or not.  And yet that can cause rifts in relationships.  Additionally, human beings are always growing and changing.  We are not being so much as becoming. Declaring who we are denies our very transitory nature.  Perhaps we are only deceiving ourselves in such declarations.

“With any part you play, there is a certain amount of yourself in it.  There has to be, otherwise it’s just not acting.  It’s lying.”  Johnny Depp

And yet, authenticity can be a trick, too.  We aren’t always who we think we are.  Sometimes our self-identity is just conformity to a different norm.  Sometimes our self-image is an act to change how others perceive us, to seek approval of a different group.  A great example of this is evident when we consider teen angst. Whether it’s being a hippie, a punk rocker, a wannabe gangsta, or a hipster, all of these personas conform to a type as well, even while being non-conformist in other settings.  Conservative country club kids aren’t the only conformists.

Takes one to know one.

I posted on this topic earlier, and I’ll re-post the questions I asked then.  Are the following examples dishonest?

  1. Omitting facts, particularly when the omitted facts would materially change perceptions.
  2. Not sharing your opinion when you disagree with the majority expressed opinion.  Is silence a dishonest act?  Is having a poker face dishonest?
  3. Giving someone false encouragement, leaving a door open that you think is actually closed.  Is being a tease being dishonest?  Is negotiating?
  4. Responding to the subtext rather than the stated question, the meta-question rather than the actual question.  (E.g. Answering that you think someone is beautiful who asks if an outfit makes him or her look fat.)
  5. Answering the question you wish they had asked rather than the one they asked.  This is an evasive tactic.  What if the question is inappropriate?  Isn’t it OK to evade an impertinent question in order to maintain boundaries?
  6. Lying to protect others.  Sam Harris would say even if lives are at stake, you are merely kicking the danger down the curb.  For example, telling a murderer that the person they seek isn’t home merely means they will go kill someone else.  Of course, conversing with sociopaths may get you featured in a Flannery O’Connor story.
  7. Lying when the person can’t be trusted with the truth.  Of course, not trusting someone doesn’t always mean they are not trustworthy, and yet some people are not.

If you think these are examples of dishonesty, defend your answer.  What’s your standard for honesty?


[1] B.M. DePaulo and D.A. Kashy, “Everyday Lies in Close and Casual Relationships,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74, no.1 (Jan. 1998): 63–79.

[2] B.M. DePaulo, et al.,“Lying in Everyday Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70, no. 5 (1996): 979–995.

[3] Did you really expect a citation on this one?

[4] Seinfeld, Season 6, Episode 16:  The Beard.  Yes, I just cited Seinfeld.

[5] I actually like HR people, but if you don’t, you’ll love this article.

[6] There are a few I wish would quit letting their freak flag fly, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.