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Hit Replay: How to Win at Being Honest

Truth or Dare: Extract Yourself from the Web
Part 4 of 4

Not the World Wide Web—the web of dishonesty. You’ve heard the old adage, right?  “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Maybe you’re trapped in your own web of dishonesty and you’re not quite sure how to get out. Maybe you need to make a confession or to correct a false impression you’ve given someone. Or perhaps you find yourself bound up in dishonest habits, even though you know better. 

“There is no twilight zone of honesty. A thing is either right or it’s wrong.”
John F. Dodge

Those Sticky, Gray Areas

Let’s look at some advice for gaining freedom from the web of dishonesty.

You can imagine situations in which telling a lie might be the right thing to do. If a couple of thugs come looking for your friend and ask if you know where to find him, will you tell them? Let’s hope not! Or if your own safety is at stake, of course you would gladly lie in order to protect yourself.

Most of us would probably agree that, under certain circumstances, protecting someone’s life or well-being would take precedence over telling the truth. Other more common situations, however, don’t present such a clear case. 

For example, some people think it’s perfectly fine to lie in order to make another person feel better. “Does this dress look good on me?” your friend asks. Perhaps you think the dress is way too tight and makes your friend look big. But you say yes to avoid hurting her feelings. If your friend’s goal is to go out looking nice, have you really made the right choice? As a friend, you should probably tell her the truth. If you choose your words carefully, you can offer an honest opinion without hurting her feelings. There’s no need to blurt out the first thought that comes to your mind. Instead, practice a little tact: “I think a different dress would look much better on you.” Or, “Why don’t you wear the blue dress?  You look great in that one.”

Sometimes people need brutal honesty. If you see your younger brother has gotten involved with drugs, for example, a harsh warning is what he needs, not a gentle suggestion. On the other hand, never use honesty as an excuse for saying something unkind. Suppose your girlfriend always sings off-key. You could tell her, but why? Criticizing her when it isn’t necessary only weakens your relationship.

Bottom line: Except in unusual circumstances, honesty is the best choice. But when you tell someone the truth, have the other person’s best interest at heart. Use a little gentleness or diplomacy. If telling the truth isn’t helpful or necessary, don’t say anything. 

The Bad-Habit Trap

Maintaining an honest life sometimes takes effort—especially if you’ve adopted dishonest habits. Try the following five suggestions for exchanging those dishonest habits for honest ones.

  1. Don’t answer too quickly. When someone asks you a difficult question, pause for a moment to think about what you will say. If your boss asks why you were late for work, you might be immediately tempted to exaggerate the morning traffic jam. Instead, take a breath and tell him the simple truth: “I overslept.” Or, if someone asks that you make some sort of commitment, don’t agree too readily, even if you do have good intentions. It’s fine to say, “Let me think about it.”
  2. Correct yourself.  If you do speak too quickly and catch yourself saying something untrue, back up immediately.  “Well, that’s not really true. Let me start again. Actually…”  Even if you realize later that you said something untrue, don’t hesitate to make amends as soon as you can. People will appreciate your courage to tell the truth.
  3. Imagine yourself being honest.  If dishonesty has become a habit, it might be helpful to imagine possible situations before you encounter them. Or, remember a real incident from the past when you were less than honest and consider how you should have responded. Picture yourself being truthful. 
  4. Be honest at play. Do you play video games? Try honesty in your virtual world. Maybe that sounds strange.  What difference does it make if you cheat in an online game or role-play a character who lies in order to reach his goals?  If you’re already having trouble being completely truthful, low standards of honesty at play might carry over into other areas of your life. Lying or cheating in the imaginary world makes it that much easier in the real world.
  5. Hang around other truthful people.  Real friends, for example, will hold you accountable to your volunteer commitments rather than tempting you to skip important events. And classmates who encourage you to study hard for a test rather than making a cheat sheet will help keep you on the right path. Avoid hanging around those who might pull you back into the web. 

Stop Deceiving Yourself

Sometimes you might be less than honest with others because you’re not being honest with yourself. Let’s take a look at three examples of self-deception.

  • Example 1: You want to believe that something is the truth, or you think that something should be the truth, so you talk yourself into believing it. 

Cindy wants to have a boyfriend so badly that she talks herself into believing that she really wants to be with Jake. In reality, she really doesn’t. She wants to be with someone, but not with Jake.  She goes along in the relationship trying to be happy, but until she is honest with herself, she can’t be happy.

Perhaps you, like Cindy, are in a dishonest relationship. You fear that if you face the truth and break off the relationship, you’ll be hurting others. You just can’t bring yourself to do it. In a situation like this, you first have to realize that you’re hurting yourself, cheating yourself of real happiness, and not being fair to the other person. You’re hurting the other person even more by not telling the truth. Doesn’t he or she deserve to know?  Don’t you both deserve to have happy relationships? 

  • Example 2: Sometimes you might be persuaded by others to doubt the truth about yourself.  Your friends or family might expect certain things or want certain things to be true about you.  

“I know you’re going to love studying pre-med at the university,” Charlie’s father tells him. “That’s what you were meant to do.”  Charlie agrees with his father and then he tells himself that’s what he wants, too. After all, he’s made excellent grades in all of his science courses, and he knows how happy everyone will be if he follows in his father’s footsteps. Secretly, he’s always wanted to pursue his love of music. He spends most of his free time playing the piano and composing tunes, but he won’t allow himself to think about a career in music.

Maybe you’re in situation similar to Charlie’s. Maybe you’ve been following a career path or some other interest just to please your parents (or someone else). Once you admit the truth to yourself, it’s time to be honest with everyone else.  Don’t be afraid to tell them your real interests and passions. They might be disappointed or surprised at first, but when people really care about you, they’ll want you to be happy. And when you reveal your honest desires, they can help you achieve your goals.

  • Example 3: One of the most dangerous forms of self-deception is rationalizing an action you know is wrong. By making excuses for your actions, you trick yourself into believing that what you did was right.  

Desperate for time, Marla plagiarizes her book report. When she receives an A on the report, she’s plagued with guilt.  But I had no choice, she tells herself. I was sick and didn’t have time to do a good job and the teacher said she wouldn’t accept late work. It just wasn’t fair.  But Marla knows she’ll never feel good about that A. Plus, she goes to class every day wondering if her teacher has discovered the truth.

Maybe you’ve done something wrong, like Marla, and you find yourself struggling to keep the truth hidden. Is it really worth the guilt and the fear of getting caught in your deception? Everyone makes wrong choices sometimes. But not everyone has the courage to admit a mistake. But if you take responsibility for your wrong-doing, others will respect your willingness to make things right, and they’ll be more likely to trust you in the future.

Dr. Cortney Warren, clinical psychologist and author of the book, Lies We Tell Ourselves: The Psychology of Self-Deception, notes the importance of taking responsibility for who you are. Observe yourself. When you catch yourself acting in ways that are inconsistent with your emotions or thoughts, stop and think about your reactions. Choose to be honest with yourself so that you can be honest with others.

Break Free!

When it’s time to choose honesty, it may seem that you simply can’t bring yourself to say the words. But you can—with a bit of planning. 

  • Resolve to do it.  Once you understand the importance of freeing yourself from dishonesty, decide to do it and don’t look back. 
  • Plan a specific time to do it.  Choose an appropriate time and place. Don’t try to explain your new career path, for example, when your dad is late for a meeting. Wait until he’s relaxed and in a good mood.
  • Write out what you want to say.  You could deliver your message in a letter or email, if that’s the only way you can express yourself clearly. However, many people prefer face-to-face communication when you’re admitting dishonesty. Otherwise, they might perceive you as lacking courage. One option is to write your message, deliver it in person, and stay in the room while the person reads it.
  • Practice.  Stand in front of the mirror and say the words aloud. Or pretend the person is sitting in front of you.  If you have a friend you can trust, practice telling the truth to him or her. 
  • Make sure you’re calm before beginning your conversation. The more prior thought and practice you devote to this, the more confidence you will have and the calmer you will be. Remember, what you are doing is a good thing…for everyone involved
  • Apologize for your dishonesty.  Preface what you have to say with a statement such as, “I am so sorry that I haven’t been honest with you.You deserve to know the truth.”

You can free yourself from the web. And it’s best to get out as soon as you can, before you get yourself even more tangled up. You might receive punishment for your initial transgression, or some of your relationships might change when others know the truth. But what a relief it will be! 

“The truth will set you free.”
The Bible (John 8:32)

Written by Beth Prassel-Sieg

- OTHER PARTS IN THIS SERIES –

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 3:
Game Over: Why You'll Never Win with Lying
Truth or Dare: The Case for Honesty

“There is no twilight zone of honesty. A thing is either right or it’s wrong.” John F. Dodge