I can recall fairly clearly the last lie I consciously told.

It was Wednesday, December 30 around 7:30pm. Much of my extended family was converging on New York to celebrate the new year together, and everyone decided to meet up for the first time that evening for a mini-reunion of sorts, complete with food (or rather, polite nibbling), talk (or rather, huddling in corners with those around whom you feel most comfortable), and copious amounts of alcohol (because nothing saves an awkward get together quite like a glass or three of Jameson).

I typically avoid gatherings like this with nearly every available modicum of will, a fact that is well known to those close to me (one past HubSpot colleague referred to this tendency of mine as ‘anti-joinerism’, a term I’m still a fan of). Unbeknownst to all but two of my family members, though, I was actually planning on dropping by; I figured it would be a nice little surprise to cap off the holiday season (a tad arrogant of me), not to mention I was excited to be remarked upon and perhaps even complimented (completely self-absorbed of me).

When I arrived at the apartment, I was of course treated to the whole range of obligatory hugs, hello’s, and how-you-doing’s. Some were genuine and warm (and admittedly welcome). Others barely lasted the mandatory two second minimum (also very welcome). Yet it was during one of these brief encounters that I uttered that fateful, haunting lie. The lie heard ’round the room. The last lie of 2015.

“It’s good to see you again.”

Terrible, right?

But hyperbole aside, I won’t deny that this lie may appear to be fairly trivial (although this still does not make it acceptable). The point is that it was entirely unnecessary. What I should have said was, ‘Hey, how are you?’ Or, ‘Hey, I didn’t know you were going to make it to New York.’ In fact, I could have chosen from a million other introductions. Instead, I falsely said, ‘It’s good to see you again.’

And I say false because it wasn’t good. In fact, I would say the feeling that coincided with seeing and hugging my not-so-distant relative was the opposite of good; it was contrived, uncomfortable, and automatic, more akin to my Roomba bumping into a table leg than to two humans embracing. And that’s because we simply aren’t close. (We’ve spent essentially no time together since I was twelve.) Why, then, are we expected to be? Worse, why are we expected to pretend to be? (I’ll review lies of this sort in much greater detail in the future.)

More interesting – and perhaps concerting – than this, though, is how quickly we are to subconsciously commit to lying (in the way I did above, without even considering alternatives). Most people with whom I’ve spoken believe that the real difficulty of telling the truth exists when I’m consciously considering it, am aware of its potential repercussions, and have to choose to still tell the truth despite those potentially negative consequences. I’ve found this to be false.

It’s much harder to avoid accidentally slipping up and uttering a lie when you’re not really paying that much attention. Through my commitment to honesty, I’ve begun to realize just how much of our conversations are made up of unconscious, automatic responses. The real difficulty, then, comes with making myself slow down and being cognizant of the words I’m using (as well as their intentions), rather than just accidentally throwing out compulsory falsehoods in order to quickly fill the silence. (You know the scenario: Restaurant. Bad food. Waitress asks how it is. You reply, ‘Oh, it’s great,’ knowing good and well that it wouldn’t even pass your puppy’s standards.)

Telling the truth, then, first requires that I have considered if what I’m going to say really is the truth (or, more importantly, if I even have an idea of what the truth is). If I’m unsure, the responsible approach is to acknowledge that I’m unsure, and to what degree I am unsure. (Fortunately, there’s not much at stake here anymore since I can just look everything up on Google.) As such, being honest to others has forced me to become more honest with myself. And because I’m forced to constantly be in the moment in order to avoid allowing little lies to slip out, I find myself more in the moments that I share with other people, as well. Through this process, then, I not only better understand who I am as a person; I enjoy the moments I spend with others more, as well.

And those are things that actually are good to see.

Keith F.

Chief Experience Officer & award-winning speaker. Host, CreativeMornings Boston. Creator of ProofOfHope.us and AdventuresInHonesty.com. Formerly: Creative Director at HubSpot (IPO) & Producer at MTV. Follow me on Twitter: @theKeithF

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1 Comment

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    Bob Giangrasso

    January 8, 2016 at 10:31 am

    I’ve always viewed honesty vs. lies as the difference between friends and co-workers. In business, it would be utterly irresponsible to NOT say, “So glad to see you!” Whereas, the older I’ve gotten, I’ve certainly learned to more carefully select the friends and companions that inhabit the close circle around me. With that, I must come out publicly and say that I enjoy your company and appreciate what you have to say. I enjoy watching your face think about the next sentence. Perhaps, in the past, you were thinking of forming that next lie to be polite or appropriate. Maybe now that facial tick will all but vanish. I think of listening; really listening, to be an incredible virtue, up there with integrity, honesty and decency. For me, it has always been a key component in friendship as well as in business. When I ask, “What firms would you like to work at?”, their answer tells me a lot about a candidate’s preparation for the interview as well as their career goals. And when I say, “How are you?”, I really am asking the question and not just making a pleasantry. When we were vacationing in Prague in the 80’s, we met up with my brother-in-law and his Slovak gf, Zdena. Her reply to that question was to yell at me and berate all Americans for asking questions when they had no interest in the answers. At the time, David often dated very strong personalities; perhaps as a means of foreplay. So, I had to explain to Zdena that I hoped to get to know her better and did indeed want to know how she was. (Later, I realized this was a big mistake.) And, I really liked your sentence, ” … because I’m forced to be in the moment in order to avoid allowing little lies to slip out, I find myself more in the moments that I share with other people, as well.” It’s a brilliant and such a sincere sentiment, the sort of thing to provoke a hug, albeit a cyber hug. And meanwhile, eliminating those facial ticks while thinking of the next best thing to say. It will probably improve your poker game as well. Now, come up with another clever expression to replace smart-ish shit, as long as we’re letting all this honesty out of the closet. Bob