It’s the darkest week of the year, nearly Christmas. Stories of Santa Claus and elves abound… but my kids know they’re not real. I’ve never lied about this.
At 10am it’s only just light and it will be dark again in 5 hours. And yet the world dazzles me with fairy lights wrapped round trees and bushes, balconies and rooftops. The darkest week presents an opportunity to shine light. We all have many lights to shine so which one will you choose this week? My choice is to shine light on honesty… and what it’s really like.
Honesty is not comfortable and that’s the truth.
Because being honest is also sometimes the choice to be lonely. When I committed to a path of honesty, I didn’t realize how lonely it would make me. The more honest I get, the more I scare many away. Honesty – real honesty – is truly shocking sometimes. Many people can’t take honesty because they have never really been honest with themselves. It can hurt. It makes you vulnerable. Yet in being honest I attract other people. People who don’t pull me into their games of he said, she said. People who appreciate honesty. And in the long term I am happier for it.
Last week a husband told me what he really thought of his wife’s dress. It wasn’t pleasant. He expected that I would keep it to myself. I didn’t. Instead I sat them both down at the table and said,
‘Look I appreciate that there is a place for confidence. But I am not the right person to keep your secrets from one another. Tony doesn’t like your dress Mags. And he told me. But I don’t want your secrets in my life.’
‘You what?’ said Mags to Tony.
He had the grace to look a little embarrassed. But he was also angry at me. ‘I told you that in confidence, now I know what type of friend you really are.’
‘Yes. I replied. ‘I’m an honest friend. You have every right not to like Mags’ dress. But you don’t have to right to expect me to lie to her, even by omission. She’s also my friend.’
Thankfully, we are all still friends. And happy to be so.
Being honest also means that I’ve stopped using justifications for why I should lie. I have none. But I used to
- Want to be accepted
- Want to be liked
- Not want to hurt others or cause them embarrassment (mainly for reasons 1 & 2)
They are called justifications because we use them to justify something we already know isn’t authentic. We use it as a means to an end. They don’t seem too terrible until you call them what they really are. A form of manipulation (albeit a small one). If that friend really knew what I thought of her boyfriend, would we still be friends? If I didn’t tell her, wasn’t I denying her the choice of whether to be my friend or not? Shouldn’t she have that choice?
So I told her. And I told her why… back in the day when I didn’t know how to use tact. We are no longer friends.
I could have told her differently. That was my mistake. Because on my road to honesty I’ve made huge, blundering errors. Because in the beginning I didn’t really know how to be honest in the most productive and compassionate way (and sometimes still don’t). I slashed my way blindly through honesty not realizing that tact indeed had it’s place. You can be tactful and still honest. If you know in advance that it will hurt, you have the choice to lie of course, but then your relationship becomes one built on a tissue of lies instead of who you really are and what you really feel. You have the choice to be friends with people who wouldn’t be your friend if they knew who you really were. Is that what you want?
You also need to look inside yourself and think deeply…is my goal to hurt the other person? To gain power? Is that why I did it? The best reason is that you want to deepen the relationship with trust and compassionate communication. If I am being honest, that’s not why I did it with my friend. I think we’d lied to each other over many years and those lies meant we didn’t even know each other anymore. But did I start with that? No. I was selective and brutal in my truth telling. I made it easy on myself, I shifted the emotional risk onto her. And for that I am sorry. Looking honestly at yourself is sometimes very, very uncomfortable.
So people ask… ‘You, who believe in honesty… do you lie to your children? Do you expose them to the harsh realities of life? How do you deal with their lies?’
My children are at the stage where they are discovering that lying can bring short term benefits. Lying like anything else, takes practice. My job as a parent is to get them into a habit of honesty. The more I vilify lying, the more likely they are to compound their lies with other lies, because they will be afraid of being caught out. The more I set them up to tell lies (‘Did you eat that biscuit?’ When I know already full well they did), the more practice they will get in fine tuning their lies. My goal is to eradicate the short term benefit of lies, but not shame them or create a situation where they want to tell lie after lie, in order to protect themselves. I love them whether they tell the truth or whether they lie, but try to get to a place where I can say more often (and whilst giving them a hug)
‘Well I don’t like what you did, but I love that you told the truth and that is so much more important’ (because it’s the truth).
White lying, which is how most people consider the lies told to children, harms children even if you think it is a trade-off for avoiding a ‘worse’ hurt. Lies, even white lies, will present a false reality. The truth is that ALL lying is stressful because it creates two conflicting realities which the brain is constantly trying to resolve. It’s called cognitive dissonance. I’ve lived with it myself and know how harmful it can be. And the more lies they live with, the easier it is to see lying as acceptable, and the greater the potential for stress in their lives.
So they know that the tooth fairy and Santa Claus are not real. Because I don’t want them to think that lying is acceptable under any circumstances. I tell them instead that these are beautiful and inspirational fairy tales. That once Santa Claus was based on a real person who gave presents to poor children and now we honour his generosity by putting likenesses of him on our tree. That the tooth fairy used to be the ‘tooth mouse’ (and in France still is) but that we have preferred in more modern times to symbolise the transition to adulthood with a bit of magic (and money)!
I think these stories are just as valuable. And if the choice is between creating a false reality which leads to stress – which as children in a hostile world they have enough to cope with already – versus stories of hope, generosity and the symbolic passage of time which are true, then I know which ones I prefer. Not only because it creates them less stress, but also the less lies they are told, the more they will appreciate the magic of reality and the better they will be able to handle the truth when they become adults. I want them above all to be the happiest they can be. And I believe that the best way they can be happy, is to tell the whole truth.
Truth is a deep kindness that teaches us to be content in our everyday life and share with the people the same happiness. ~ Khalil Gibran