“I will not be sneaky or lie.”

The therapists and clients in my therapy community all use a series of six self-care contracts as guiding principles in their lives. One of those contracts is “I will not be sneaky or lie. I will be honest with myself and others.”

I hold telling the truth in high value and have for a long time. Has being upfront and telling the truth always been important to me? Not at all. I know that I was sneaky and told lies during a good part of my childhood and early teenage years.

In some families, being sneaky and lying may be the only way for children to have power and to do the things that they want to do. To some extent that must have been true for me. I don’t have any memory of how often I engaged in those behaviors, but I do remember one notable example. One day, my mother asked me if I had practiced my accordion, an instrument I hated. I immediately said yes. When she took me to the closet where it was stored, I was dismayed to discover that there was a big rug rolled up against the closet door. There was no way I would have been able to move the rug to get to the accordion. Did being caught in a blatant lie make me change that behavior? No it didn’t.  What I learned from that incident was to be much more careful when I told lies. I don’t remember when I made a decision to stop lying, but I did.  It may have been in ninth grade when my spiritual journey became so important to me.

One thing that is guaranteed to rile me up is if I find out that someone has lied to me. That seems ironic considering that I used to lie. However, as a therapist I have learned that we are very likely to get triggered when others do the same unhealthy behaviors that we consciously, or unconsciously do (i.e. they are being a “mirror” for us) or when we have not completely forgiven ourselves for our past mistakes. I know I still carry some guilt for all the lies I told during the early years of my life, even though I have some understanding of why I told them.

There is a quote that is often attributed to Buddha that says:  “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, 1) is it true, 2) is it necessary, and 3) is it kind?”  While I am not always successful, I strive to keep those three criteria in mind when I speak. That doesn’t mean that the people I’m talking to will think that what I have to say meets all of the criteria. As a therapist, I often say things that are hard for clients to hear. At the time, they may think I am being unkind and that my words were unnecessary, but later, they may change their minds.

Is it ever okay to tell a lie? If someone was in danger and telling a lie would help keep them safe, then I believe the lie would be warranted.  In most other cases though, a lie would be unnecessary and potentially harmful to ourselves or others.

If our needs conflict with others desires, we may be tempted to lie. For example, if someone wants us to spend the evening with them we may create some fictitious obligation when the reality is that we just want some quiet time at home.  It might be difficult or even frightening to tell the truth, but most people will understand, and even if they don’t, the truth isn’t likely to do as much damage to the relationship as getting caught in a lie. Even if we don’t get caught, when we lie to someone, our sense of self-respect may be damaged.  We may not know the effect of all the little lies on our psyche until sometime long into the future.

When people shift from being sneaky or telling lies to being honest, they often believe that they have to tell other people everything. That was true for me. If I didn’t tell people the whole story, I felt like I was lying. I soon learned that was not the case. Generally, our thoughts and actions, whether past or present, are our business. There is no need to share them with others unless we want to. It is not lying to keep private things private. In fact, it may be good self-care. Disclosure is an area that requires discrimination.

There are many times when it would be impossible to tell the whole truth and keep the criteria of saying only what is true, kind and necessary. That doesn’t mean that we have to lie though. It may be a time for silence.

Two areas that I continue to work on are not minimizing my own needs and not exaggerating. Recently someone pointed out to me how something they had done had impacted me in a negative way. Instead of acknowledging that what they had said was true, I started talking about a past experience with someone else that had hurt me more. In a way, that was minimizing the situation, and I missed an opportunity to talk about an ongoing problem.

My speech used to be peppered with exaggeration. I spoke of “millions” of this and “tons” of that. I know there are many other examples, even in the present, of how I exaggerate but I’m not remembering them in the moment. When I find myself exaggerating I correct myself internally, and ideally clear it with the person I have spoken to as well.

I think learning to be upfront and honest, yet still use discrimination, is a lifetime process, or at least it will be for me. But I believe it is worth every bit of effort I put into the journey.

 

Written for Dungeon Prompts- Season 3, Week 5- For What Would You Lie?

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30 thoughts on ““I will not be sneaky or lie.”

  1. I also carry a lot of guilt for the lies I told when I was younger and in the depths of low self esteem. And I’ve tried to adopt the true, necessary, kind checklist before I say something. That’s what I employed to combat my tendency to rehash things I say after I say them. I don’t screen 100% of the time, but it has cut down on the quantity of conversations I worry about. Thanks for sharing this, Karuna. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one with Liar’s guilt.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I appreciate you sharing too, for the same reason! I imagine we have lots of company when it comes to the issue of lying during childhood.

      I’m glad that the checklist has helped you in decreasing your rehashing. That is probably also true for me.

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  2. Absolutely LOVE this, and I do believe that everyone can relate. If they claim not to, I think they’re lying. We are all guilty of lying and being sneaky. Its all a part of growing up. But you cannot possibly show me one person on the face of this earth who has never in his or her life lied at some point. Kudos to you for putting it out there. This is the accountability I was speaking of a few days ago. More people need to do exactly what you just did, but also learn from it so as not to repeat it! Awesome post!!

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  3. The worst is when someone thinks they’re being sneaky but it’s so obvious… very irritating because I always take it personally like, you think you’re smarter than me don’t cha. I like the truth, necessary and kind quote. Those are pretty good guidelines.

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    1. Thanks for your thanks and kind words!

      I love that quote too. I’ve always seen it attributed to Buddha, with one exception. Bodhipaksa researched the quote and believes it comes from a Victorian poem “Miscellaneous Poems,” by Mary Ann Pietzker, published in 1872. He also said the Buddhist canons actually contain 5 criteria. The questions monks are meant to ask themselves before they speak are: “Do I speak at the right time, or not? Do I speak of facts, or not? Do I speak gently or harshly? Do I speak profitable words or not? Do I speak with a kindly heart, or inwardly malicious?” (From The Patimokkha, Ñanamoli Thera, trans.)

      I really like the expanded version, especially the “Do I speak at the right time, or not?”

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      1. Maybe Mary Ann was a reincarnated Buddhist monk, but the five criteria from the Patimokkha are even better. I like the last one about speaking with a kindly heart or inwardly malicious. Sometimes I feel like malicious words sneak up on me and I don’t realise that they are inadvertently lacking in good intention until they are out of my mouth, and then it’s too late. Most frequently this is gossip or negative words about someone, which I almost always wish I could take back because the words just tend to snowball into something bigger and uglier.

        I’m going to try to commit these five to memory and use them tomorrow 🙂

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      2. Good idea! I think I may write them out and put them in my group room and also somewhere in my house so I can be more aware of them. I liked them so much when I first read them, but then reverted back to the simple three.

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      3. :p I forgot four of the five already! And unfortunately, I didn’t apply the one I did remember when someone accidentally took my lunch today… there weren’t so many kindly hearted words coming out of my mouth at the time!!

        Oh well. Try again tomorrow.

        It’s a good idea to write them out… think I may do the same 🙂

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  4. Thank you for this considered and intelligent article Karuna. You pick up on this aspect of lying which you refer to as ‘exaggeration’. As someone new to blogging, I’m noticing a striking difference in how culturally acceptable it is to use hyperbole in different territories. In my home country of England, hyperbole is rather frowned upon, and is generally perceived as an unnecessary manifestation of emotional ‘gushing’. And yet when I read comments on many North American sites, hyperbole is used prolifically, yet invariably with positive intent – it appears to be almost a cultural norm, expected even. Whilst I can’t bring myself to respond in kind as it feels so insincere, I do wonder whether my own, less hyperbolic, responses to articles are at times seen as stand-offish, or cold. I think the answer, in this instance, is that one can only be true to oneself, to one’s own innate psychological traits and disposition.

    All best wishes Karuna.

    Hariod.

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    1. I think you are right, hyperbole is almost certainly a cultural norm in the U.S. and as such is often unconscious. Once we bring our words into consciousness, we can decide if we want to continue speaking that way.

      One of my main mentors is Jean I. Clarke. Among other things, she teaches “responsible language,” i.e. saying things directly, asking for what you want and need without expecting others to read your mind and interpreting for you. One of the examples she uses is the statement, “The eggs are getting cold.” There are so many interpretations of that statement and it can get pretty funny to visualize them all.

      I have really enjoyed dialoguing with people from all over the world since I started blogging. In addition to seeing cultural differences, I have also learned new words, such as “chuffed!”

      Liked by 2 people

    2. On the same page as you Hariod… American culture seems to be good at encouraging the expression of feelings, maybe sometimes to the point that it makes people from other cultures a little uncomfortable. It can really confront and challenge that cultural practice of repressing feelings, which both English and Australian cultures seem to do very well. (I’m Australian).

      I’m testing out the theory that engaging with this could actually be quite healthy for us ‘suck it up and keep going’ cultures…

      So yes, I agree that we should be true to ourselves, but there’s room to move. We can play around with an emotional hyperbole now and then and see how it feels. Just as long as we don’t end up using the US Spell Check in the process, it might loosen us up a little and make us a bit more psychologically intact… or less intact…. we’ll wait and see 🙂

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  5. Thanks for being clear abut your experiences. And for your wisdom in working out what truth telling consists of. I’m working on telling the truth when I do not want to do something someone has invited me to do. Having been brought up to be polite, which can be a form of lying, I’m learning to speak my own truth. Being honest leads to deeper connections with people.

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  6. You remind me of when I got caught telling lies; I used the situation as a lesson for telling a better lie next time…for a while. I read in my Bible stories that Abraham lived for a long time because he never lied. That sounded good to me, so I vowed to never tell a lie. I couldn’t keep my promise for even a day. Then, I saw how lies distanced me from people and opportunities that I wanted to be closer to. That, plus my maturity, motivated me to get in the habit of telling the truth.

    I like the 3 and 5 criteria you share. I will work to keep them in mind as I speak.

    I share your goal of speaking more precisely.

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your stories. I’m beginning to realize that a lot of kids must lie just as a part of growing up. It would be interesting to know more about that….

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  7. First Nations people also have a similar saying before speaking. I once asked a counsellor at a visit on a reserve a few years back, if the silence in a group meant they did not feel comfortable, he explained that they ask themselves the exact same questions. It makes total sense..especially the second one…do I have something “more” to add to this meeting? Very often some committee members talk to hear themselves talk…we could learn a lot in practicing some humility. I remember my first lies were blessed my our mother when our father came home to say we did the dishes and cleaning (we hid the dish pan filled with dishes in the oven) to avoid unsettling problems. As for exageratting…parents often do about their children and that usually out of love…and as for grandparents…it is a right of “grandparent” passage to exagerate:) Great post, Karuna, as always.

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    1. Thanks for adding all of your thoughts. So many different stories and considerations.

      It makes total sense that children would learn to lie when they have a parent that teaches them to lie for their own safety. It is a good example of how something learned during childhood as a survival skill can become a problem when carried into adult living. (I’m not saying you carried it into your adult living but many people do.)

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      1. My sister carried it on forward but my father used to as well… There are other family members of various generations that seem to have this same trait…which was not learned in their case for they were not raised together…sometimes I wonder if there is a genetic component…it is so frustrating if you see these people often and if you don’t conversations never can go very deep.

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      2. It is amazing and fascinating how much family members raised apart have in common.

        I can imagine how frustrating it would be. I live on the other side of the country from the few family members I have so don’t know them very well at all.

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  8. I value honesty and truth. But, must admit I have lied when being honest would only hurt the person that I am lying to. The lie comes only when I am pressured to say something; after noncommittal and avoidance fails. Thank you for sharing.

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