I’m reading Dan Ariely’s latest book, The Honest Truth about Dishonesty. It talks about how we all are prone to fudge the truth, just a little bit, when given the opportunity. Even in our most honest state, we can even start to believe the little untruths we tell about ourselves, if told often enough.
Growing up, my Mom would regularly give me the lecture that “I leave a trail a blind man could follow,” indicating that I was a crappy liar and even worse at trying to cover up whatever infractions of the rules I tried to pull off. (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m learning even more about this having my own teenagers in the house now. Thanks for putting up with me.) But as a result of being a crappy liar, I decided to adopt the “What you see is what you get” or WYSIWYG principal for almost everything in my life. I just decided it was so much easier to be honest and truthful than lie, get caught, and deal with the embarrassment from it. This stance has made it easier for me in social media, because I feel comfortable enough with myself and my stand on things that I will stand behind what I’ve said, even if I change my mind later on. I can own what I believe and have said (will say), past, present and future, enough so that I’m willing to keep a record of it here, on my blog. I hope I’m gradually teaching my kids the same lessons.
That said, I know I’m still prone to the small white lie from time to time. For example, when asked about what I spent on something by my husband, from time to time, a few dollars may be subtracted from the price, for reasons even I cannot fully explain, especially when the difference between an $80 and $90 cost is not significant- but somehow, I like to appear more thrifty and responsible- it’s stupid and I know it. But the reflex to shave the cost just a little remains, no matter how trivial and pointless.
When we look at the current political races, I’m starting to understand more how these little shadings of the truth effect the big picture. How embarrassing and stupid these little “softeners” of the truth are, especially when they come to haunt you later on. Take Mr. Romney and the Bain Capital/Olympics/Residency debacle. Somewhere in this mess is the truth,which goes something like this: Romney decided to move out to Utah to help save the Salt Lake Olympics, and did a good job at it. But he maintained his ties to Bain Capital for a number of reasons, like any of us would- to hedge bets in case you wanted to leave the new job, and to help maintain residency in Massachusetts for potential political bids to come. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But the point is, just own what you did, and why, and everything’s fine. Trying to mess with history to spin it for whatever reason, makes you look silly and stupid.
People can’t help themselves. We retrospectively apply all sorts of rationalizations to our actions, and even believe we had a plan all along, where we all know, situations and times require that we adapt and change our minds over time. The story gets better on each telling. Just like a “fish story”- there’s always elements of the truth, but perception and time color the unvarnished truth, just like comparing the accounts of a “Who broke the vase?” from two kids will require a parent to look in between the lines and combine the stories to get to what we’ll call the “truth” of the matter. (It’s more like a crime scene reconstruction, of course, with all sorts of post hoc ergo proctor hoc rationalizations.)
The bottom line is we all lie, fortunately, only a little bit, and in mostly harmless ways. (Let’s not talk about the LIBOR scandal in this discussion though, okay?) But it takes real courge and cohones to own it, and move forward. When you get defensive, it just looks bad, and you look worse and more guilty than you would just saying “Yeah, I hedged my bets- you would have, too.”
Like Mama said- Honesty is the best policy. And in this day and age, Google ensures we all leave trails a blind journalist could follow.