Game Over: Why You'll Never Win with Lying

Truth or Dare: The Case for Honesty
Part 3 of 4

Did you play the Truth or Dare game in part 1 and part 2?  Our game is over, but our exploration of honesty has really just begun.  Now that we’ve clarified what it means to speak and live honestly, let’s talk about why you should commit to an honest lifestyle in the first place.  After all, you might be able to recognize honesty (and the lack of it) quite well.  But if you don’t know why you should practice it, then you probably won’t. 

You probably see people all around you, adults and young people alike, being dishonest.  Government leaders often don’t keep promises.  Participants in the latest reality TV show stab each other in the back to get what they want.  You hear your friends spreading false rumors about the history teacher.  Your favorite actress supposedly cheated on her husband.  You saw a fellow waiter take a tip that wasn’t his.  Your classmate asks to copy your homework….The list could go on and on.

Perhaps it seems as if these dishonest folks are doing just fine in life; maybe they’re even doing well.  Why should you be any different?  Why should you care about being honest? As you think about your answer, here are five things you should consider.

#1 It's the Right Thing to Do

Your parents, or other adults, have probably taught you either by words or example that it’s wrong to lie.  Who hasn’t been confronted by a questioning adult at least once?  Don’t lie to me. Are you telling me the truth?  Now…tell me what really happened.  And, of course, you’ve probably been taught the old adage, Honesty is the best policy.

Perhaps you base your morality in your religious beliefs, rather than just what you’ve been taught.  Teachings from the Bible clearly take a stance on honesty.  Exodus 20:16 - one of the Ten Commandments - states:  “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Or, if you would like, flip over to Colossians 3:9, which says: “Do not lie to each other….”  You can’t get much plainer than that!

If you strive to live a morally upright life, you can’t disregard honesty. 

Maybe you’re not interested in morality, or in living the right kind of life.  Perhaps you really don’t see anything wrong with bending the truth to suit your purposes.  And maybe you’re not a religious person, so you don’t really care what the Bible, or any other religious book, has to say.  Even so, you still have plenty of reasons to aim for honesty. 

#2 Your Honesty Affects Other People

 Imagine the following situation….

You’ve worked hard on the short story assignment which is due for English class this afternoon.   During lunch, your friend Aaron asks if he can read your story.  You let him read it.  When you ask to read his story, he says he isn’t quite finished with the assignment yet.  Aaron spends the rest of lunch hour frantically writing.  Later, during class, the English teacher asks several students to read their stories aloud.  When she calls on Aaron and he begins reading his story, it sounds just like yours. 

What is your reaction?  Do you sit calmly, with a smile on your face, thinking, “I don’t mind; Aaron’s my friend”?  No, of course, not!  More than likely, you’re appalled.  You feel cheated and betrayed because Aaron lied to you and stole your idea!

When you’re affected negatively by someone’s dishonest actions, you can see how your own deceit might hurt others.  Do you want to be lied to?  Cheated on?  Deceived?  Fooled?  Betrayed?  Neither do your friends, family, and acquaintances.  Put yourself in their shoes when you’re tempted to deceive them.  If you care about others at all, you’ll strive for honesty. 

#3 Solid Relationships Require Honesty

Who is your closest friend?  Can you trust that person with a secret?  What if you suddenly knew that you couldn’t trust your friend anymore?   Just as you need to be able to trust your friends, they need to know they can trust you, too.  Once you betray a friend, he or she may never believe you again.  You’ve damaged the relationship.  Maybe your friend will forgive you.  Maybe you’ll even remain friends.  But things will probably never be the same between the two of you.  Sacrificing honesty often means spoiling a friendship.

Dishonesty can also lead you to withdraw from others.  Consider Alexis, who led her new friends to believe that her parents could buy her anything she wanted.  Maintaining this charade proved more difficult than she thought when her friends began asking to hang out at her house.  Rather than have them find out the truth, Alexis simply stopped hanging around with them at all.  Her fear kept her from the social interaction she needed. 

Robbie told his parents he was driving to a friend’s house for a study session, when, in fact, he was driving to the next town for a party.  When he had car trouble on the way, Robbie panicked.  If he called home, his father would know that he had lied.  If he had been honest in the first place, he could have called his parents immediately, without fear or shame.  Relationships with parents tend to get a little rocky as you gain more independence.  But your parents can be your strongest allies if you maintain an honest, healthy relationship with them. 

#4 Dishonesty Costs Too Much

Dishonesty usually involves selfishness.  Think about the last time you were less than honest.  Did you want more freedom?  Were you trying to gain something you thought you couldn’t get otherwise?  Maybe you wanted to avoid punishment or some other discomfort.  Or did you want to do something you weren’t allowed to do?  You can probably think of situations when you might choose to lie in order to help another person.  But often, when you’re tempted to practice dishonesty, you’re usually looking to further your own interests. 

More often than not, however, a dishonest action or word eventually ends up hurting you instead of helping.  Dishonesty comes with a cost—and usually an unpleasant one.

  • A guilty conscience.  In the heat of the moment, you might tell yourself that it’s okay to tell a fib or to cheat a little.  Perhaps you feel desperate and think that lying is your best option or the only alternative in a particular situation.  But usually, before long, guilt begins to weigh heavily on your mind.  You can’t forget the dishonest choice you made.  It lurks in the back of your mind, bothering you…until you do something about it.
  • Bad self-esteem…often leads to lying in the first place.  When you think the truth about yourself isn’t good enough, you might try to make yourself look better.  But lying often leads to an even worse self-image, because you realize your lack of courage to tell the truth.  You’ll likely begin to see yourself as a fake and a coward.
  • Punishment.  If the truth is revealed, you’ll most likely pay for your lie in one way or another.  And if the lie you told was to avoid punishment in the first place, you might find yourself receiving twice the punishment—one for the original offense and one for the cover-up.
  • A more complicated life.   Once you begin lying, you often end up lying over and over again to hide other lies you’ve told or to maintain some false image you’ve created.  What a lot of work and mental energy!  And what a waste of time!  Why not tell the truth in the first place?  Honesty often simplifies your life.  (We’ll discuss more about extracting yourself from the web of dishonesty and making things right in part 4.)
  • Future failure.  When you create a false image of yourself or a situation, you’re setting yourself up for failure and embarrassment.  People might believe you for awhile, but what happens when they find out the truth?  It’s far less embarrassing to be honest about your shortcomings than to be caught in a lie later.  (Remember the dishonest graduate student mentioned in part 2 of this series?)

So the next time you’re tempted to lie, to cheat, or to be dishonest is some other way, consider the cost before you act.

#5 Your Body Will Thank You!

This next reason may surprise you….

Honesty might actually improve your health.

In a recent study conducted by University of Notre Dame professors, 72 adults were divided into a “sincerity group” and a control group.  The sincerity group lived 5 weeks with specific instructions:  “Always mean what you say in situations where your statements are to be taken seriously….”  The control group, of course, went about life as usual.  During the last week, those in the sincerity group reported an average of 7 fewer symptoms of ill health—nausea, headache, and sore throat, for example.

How can honesty possibly affect your physical condition?  Suppose your boyfriend or girlfriend becomes jealous, thinking that you’re seeing someone else behind his or her back.  You don’t have the courage to admit that you really are seeing someone else, so you lie.  As soon as you speak the words, your heart pounds with anxiety.  As time goes on, the stress of maintaining your lie and the fear of being found out begin to build.  You might also find yourself expending lots of energy avoiding your boyfriend’s (or girlfriend’s) acquaintances.  Soon, you find yourself plagued with exhaustion, digestive upset, and a cold that won’t go away.  Dishonesty yields the kind of negative stress which lowers the body’s immune system. 

Honesty is an important part of healing, as well, notes Dr. Bill Salt, board-certified gastroenterologist and expert for the Sharecare health website.  Scientific research suggests that we can strengthen our immune systems with honest expressions of emotions, Dr Salt believes.  In our efforts to maintain health and well-being, “the honest expression of who you are is more important than pretending to be upbeat or positive,” he writes.

Embrace honesty, then, and you’ll likely give your body a boost, strengthen your relationships, and spare yourself from the high cost of dishonesty.   And—regardless of your upbringing or your religion—you’ll probably find a sense of peace knowing that you’re doing the right thing.

What about all of those “gray areas” of honesty?  Is it ever all right not to be honest?   Need a little guidance in putting honesty into practice?  We’ll discuss more of these issues in part 4 Hit Replay: How to Win at Being Honest


Written by Beth Prassel-Sieg

Part 1:
The Beginner's Test: Are You an Honest Person?
Truth or Dare: Version 1.0

Part 2:
The Advanced Test: Are You an Honest Person?
Truth or Dare: Pro Edition

Part 4:
Hit Replay: How to Win at Being Honest
Truth or Dare: Extract Yourself from the Web

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Good habits formed at youth make all of the difference in life. Aristotle