Truth Breeds Intimacy: Or Why People Lie

“The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

Oscar Wilde

I was at a workshop, when the instructor, who could spot my “disease to please” from across the room, asked me to stand in front of the class and tell everyone one true but uncomfortable thought I had regarding them. No unkind opinions or judgments. Just thoughts I wouldn’t normally dream of sharing. Thoughts like, “Um, I would appreciate you not asking me for legal advice during our class breaks, as it takes me out of the head space I’d like to be in while I am here.”

Shock coursed through my body, and my head started to feel very buzzy. Honestly, if I hadn’t paid so much for this class, there would have been a Maile shaped hole in the exit door. All eyes were on me, as I made my way through this intense assignment. I briefly considered lying, but I quickly decided I would probably never see these people again, and I was tired of letting this intense fear of speaking my truth run my life.

Afterward, I fully expected the other participants to dislike and avoid me. I was surprised when one participant came up to me and said, “I really didn’t like you. You felt phony to me, but I feel much closer to you now, and really like you.” (I could see why she wasn’t given the assignment). I was surprised and realized that she liked me because now she trusted me. I realized that not speaking my truth was not fooling anyone. They could still feel that wall that is there when we try to hide our true feelings.

This got me thinking about this notion of speaking our truth and why even when we speak negatively, an intimacy is created that is not there when we lie to protect those we care about from our “truth. When speaking of truth it is helpful to remember there are two types of truth: Objective and Subjective. An objective truth offers facts or irrefutable information. Subjective is defined as: “ the way a person experiences things in his or her own mind.” Merriam-Webster

When you realize most conversation deals with subjective truth it becomes clear that “truth” as an objective reality doesn’t exist. What is parading around as objective truth, is really everyone sharing the contents of their minds.

It is understandable, then, why we often lament no one tells the “truth”. First, it is an impossible task at the outset. No one can speak a unified subjective truth for everyone. It is not possible. And when you factor in the myriad of life experiences unique to each individual, the variations of subjective truth is unlimited.

Second, if truth requires the revelation of our innermost thoughts and feelings, it is understandable why most opt to “lie”. We feel upset when someone we trust “lies” to us. When you consider that “truth” is a sharing of our minds, it becomes clear why people “lie”. Telling the truth is really the shedding of all pretense. When we speak our “truth” we are bearing our souls. A spoken truth then becomes something quite sacred and precious.

When someone tells you their “truth”, they are saying “I trust you, I feel safe with you, I am willing to be vulnerable, and let you see behind my “mask”. Viewed in this way, it is understandable why spoken truth is such a rare commodity.

Instead of judging people for lying, we can refocus within and strive to be that safe place where people feel safe to speak their truth. If we celebrate and honor those moments when people trust us enough to speak their truth, conversation then becomes an opportunity for true intimacy. Truth spoken with kindness is freeing, like shedding a heavy dark cloak weighing us down in fear. It generates trust, and it offers opportunities to deepen the connection we share with others. So when we feel that need for truth from others, it is helpful to remember it is a gift to receive their truth, and that because it is their truth they are always right.

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