I lied to my kids this weekend. I told them I had a fun time with them when really I didn’t. They were brats. I lied to my parents all the time when I was a kid. I lied to clients, colleagues, bosses, employees.
Sometimes people write about me and I wish I could kill them. Sometimes I want someone to return my call and when they finally return my call ten days later I say, “oh, it was no problem. I understand.” Someone wrote me the other day and said, “James, you are a crook.” I lied to myself that it didn’t bother me. I used to lie to people all the time when I was separated from my wife. People said, “all ok?” and I was like, “Couldn’t be better.” When I had to sell my first house because I was going to lose it I lied to everyone and said I was moving someplace better. I was ashamed.
I lied for years telling people I hadn’t lost all my money when I did. I was ashamed I would lose opportunities if everyone didn’t think I was super successful.
I lied to a judge when I said I skidded uncontrollably on water on the ground when I went straight through a stop sign without stopping, hitting a station wagon in the process and breaking the legs of the 70 year old man driving it. It was a clear day.
I lied to myself this morning when I said I wasn’t angry at someone who had written a crappy article about me this weekend.
I’m sick of it.
It’s hard to stop lying. I’m not a believer at all in so-called “radical honesty” where, at an extreme, you might tell some random girl you want to have sex with her even if it involves hurting everyone around you. At some point you need a filter between the brain and the mouth. You won’t find happiness inside the vomit machine your mouth turns into.
But you can slow the lies. Every day you can cut a lie out. You can be a little more open. A little more free. Let me tell you something: when you start to limit the lies you develop super-powers and everyone around you sees it. They either run from you in fear because now you can see right through them, or they gather around you and throw opportunities at you because your superpowers will now help them.
It’s the latter you want to aspire to. Be a superhero.
Here are the types of lies we often succumb to and think it’s harmless:
An exaggeration: saying “my house is 5000 square feet” on an ad to sell your house when it might actually be 4800 square feet. Believe me, they are going to measure anyway.
A white lie: Saying “Santa Claus exists” or “that dress” is pretty” or “this book is good” because you don’t want to hurt someone. This doesn’t mean to say “you look ugly” but better to say “you should wear the red dress that’s a little tighter around the waist.” Offer up a real, thoughtful opinion, not just a blurted out retch straight from your brain.
Fraud: Madoff did this to an extreme. But I see this on a daily level. More than 50% of hedge funds are frauds in my opinion. Most economic analysis is fraudulent. Every day politicians engage in shades of fraud but they are so used to it they think its normal behavior. It’s what politicians do. Pick any elected official and I can probably give you ten ways they engage in fraudulent behavior. One time I went with a friend of mine to visit a financial advisor. She just wanted my second opinion . I didn’t say anything the entire meeting but took notes. I found at least ten cases where he directly lied to her.
Why do people engage in fraud? It starts with….
Shame: first you lie about how much you make because you are ashamed to tell the truth. Or you lie about past relationships because if you say you cheated and hung out with hookers every day you are afraid people won’t like you. You lack self-esteem and only the bricks carefully carved out of shame will protect you in your fortress that gets smaller and smaller.
A lie to ourselves: you might say, I’m going to learn Spanish this year even though it was totally unrealistic. You might say, I’m not an angry person even though you have grudges against everyone around you. Here’s a hint: if most of the people around you are angry at you, then chances are you are an angry person. Projection is an easy way we can lie to ourselves. We give the people around us the attributes we have. We lie to ourselves by blaming them when it’s our fault we have these attributes.
—–>Exercise: make a list of all the people around you and what you think of them. Then erase their names. Chances are what’s left are the attributes that perfectly describe you.
Fear: When I got a divorce I had it great. To everyone who I hadn’t responded to in months I said, “oh, I was going through too much in my divorce. I couldn’t get back to you.” The reality was I didn’t really want to talk to those people. Or maybe I was just irresponsible. But I was afraid of what they would think of me if I just told them the truth.
Understatement: Oh, it’s ok if you stay over for a week. Oh, don’t worry about missing that meeting with me where you thought it was the next day despite ten confirmations. Oh, it’s ok that you made a bad choice that cost me a ton of money. I’ll survive. Nobody ever survives. Understatement is an ugly seed that’s now planted inside your dank brick house. The seed grows into an ugly plant that can barely fit.
Meanwhile, more and more people take advantage of how “nice” you are.
Omission: I saw this all the time in the financial industry. Our fund is up 30% per year. They don’t mention their prior fund that blew up. I left my old job because I wanted to be closer to my parents, or the boss hired his nephew. My old relationship ended because she cheated.
Or when someone gets back from Las Vegas. “I broke even probably” when they were down $10,000. Again, shame, fear, ego, lack of self-esteen, fear of lost love, fear people won’t think you’re smart.
Control: This was my favorite trick. You get X for me and I’ll get Y for you. But Y was in the distant future. I would never have to think about it. It was a bait. A twist. But I needed to lie to get the results I needed. To control people.
Desire: Desire for money, desire for sex, leads to lies upon lies. The funny thing is, they are related. In NYC, tell someone you have money, you’ll get sex. Or…tell someone you’ll help them get sex, you’ll get money. Or you don’t want to appear too anxious. There’s entire blogs about how to lie to people to get what you desire. But getting what you desire won’t make you happy.
Little lies and big lies are buried inside of ourselves. We have a lifetime of lying. We’ve built the brick house many times over. We can’t get out to see the sunlight. And the ugly fungi we’ve planted inside our uglier house has filled up every room with unbreathable air.
“Radical honesty” is an extreme. It’s a form of lying so you can get your selfish needs out of the way.
How many of the above lies have applied to you today?
So here’s my trick to become more and more truthful. Every day make this list: Write down three columns: “Yourself“, “One other“, “Confess“.
– Yourself: find one thing to be honest with myself about. What’s one thing in the above list that I lied about. Just be honest. Am I really angry at that guy for not calling me back. Admit it to myself. Then…how can I deal with this anger. That’s much better than bottling it up.
– One other: confide in someone. “You know what, I’m angry at this guy and I need help dealing with it.” Confiding in a friend feels good. If you trust someone, then they can trust you. Then you build more and more people that you can trust. Suddenly you have real friends, not ones built with lies but ones that will last lives.
Confiding in someone has consequences and responsibilities. They will then confide in you. Then you have to keep that trust. Can you do it?
– Step three: confess. Not in the AA 12 step way where you have to solve the problem without regard to the consequences. But maybe just admitting, I’m an angry person in general. Or…”you lost some money based on a recommendation I made 5 years ago and I knew you were going to lose it. I’m sorry about that. How can I make it up to you.” Or…”I wasn’t really a good friend. I didn’t call you back. I have nothing more to say.” If you don’t want to confess out loud, then write it down. Sometimes that has the same effect.
Every day, pull a brick down. We live in the Amazon jungle. Its lush, and green, and sunny, and wet with life. Don’t build your own tomb in the middle of it. Come out and play. Come out and enjoy the sun. And just like the young Kal-El when he landed on this planet after his distant journey, the energy from our yellow sun will give you powers beyond belief. And when your mirror is totally clean, you can finally see yourself in it.