Dear Dr. Hurd:
I lie for reasons other than personal gain or approval. I make up stories about adventures I’ve never had and things like that, and I add shocking things. It’s not in my rational self-interest and it puts me in some pretty silly positions.
Over time, I’ve stopped inventing lies but I’ve kept maintaining them. I can’t tell my friends the truth, and I doubt they will care. What do I do?
I didn’t really care about peoples’ approval. I liked to make people think about moral issues. I know why I would do it, I loved the attention. What kind of liar is that?
I could never steal. I could never scam, I detest those things. I don’t white lie to make people feel better. I tell some of the same stories, afraid to own up, which is the down side.
Dr. Hurd’s reply:
What’s the saying? Stop the insanity. That’s my advice: Just stop the insanity.
Lying makes no sense. Honesty refers to adherence to reality. If your goal in life includes being rational and reality-oriented, then that’s the reason to be honest.
Honesty is first and foremost a self-interested virtue. The toxicity of lying has nothing to do with what your Sunday School teacher, the Ten Commandments or the Boy Scouts credo says.
It sounds like you have two problems here. One, you came to realize that honesty is self-interested and reality-oriented later in life, at middle age or later. Actually, you see that as a problem—but I don’t.
Given how profoundly wrong most of what we’re taught is, it’s to your credit that you figured out the truth at all. If you lived in a world where rational ideas about morality, psychology and people were dominant, and you chose to evade those truths until later in life, that would be one thing. But most people have to wade through quite a lot of phoniness and muck to find out what the real truth about things is, and the fact remains that most of us never discover it.
Your second problem is that you’re still maintaining falsehoods. That should stop. Honesty is either a self-interested virtue, or it isn’t. You’ve said that they wouldn’t care if you told them the truth about your wild stories. So what? This is about you, not them. There’s no need to consider their feelings if they won’t care anyway. And if you really are convinced that honesty is a self-interested virtue—why the hesitation?
I suspect you’re not as convinced as you think you are that honesty is self-interested. That’s OK. It’s actually an opportunity to think this issue out more clearly. Nothing is true because I say it, or because anyone else says it. But decide for yourself, using all the logic, facts and experience available to you: Is honesty the best policy for living life, or not—for your own sake, most of all?
In psychological terms, I view honesty as important for having authentic relationships. You owe it not just to others, but to yourself most of all, not to have an inauthentic moment in your life, if possible. Some things are not under your control, but telling the truth (or refraining from lying) always is.
You don’t have to be a crusader about this. If you and someone you once told stories to now have little or no connection, then let it go. But if someone presently in your life is operating under false pretenses, then you owe it to yourself to melt those pretenses away. Even if the other person doesn’t care and finds it amusing, at least you’ll know you’ve done your due diligence.
You said your motive for telling these stories was to get people thinking about moral dilemmas and the like. Well, here’s an opportunity to put that into practice now, by disclosing the truth to the people who still matter. You wanted attention and controversy? Now you’ve got it–so embrace it.
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