I just picked up a hot mocha and settled into the driver’s seat of my patrol car. Earlier that morning I handled a traffic collision.
Thankfully, no one was hurt, but I spent over hour getting statements, taking measurements, and coordinating with the tow truck driver.
I finally had a chance to take a break and enjoy my mocha. I leaned back in my seat and enjoyed the steaming aroma.
“Coffee and chocolate — the inventor of mocha should be sainted.” -Cherise Sinclair, House of the Lion
Predictably, just as I took my first sip, a dispatch came over the radio with a call: “Shoplifter in custody.”
So much for my coffee break. I clamped the lid on my mocha cup and drove to the local K-Mart store where security had detained a shoplifter.
The manager greeted me by the entrance of the store.
“Hey John, how’s it going,” she said.
“Oh fine, Carol. I was just about to enjoy my mocha when this call came in,” I told her.
“Murphy’s law, right? Anyway, Joey’s upstairs with the guy he caught,” she said.
The daughter of time
K-Mart was a popular store for shoplifters, and I was there often. I walked upstairs to the security office and knocked. Joey, the security guard, opened the door.
“Hey John, come on in. He’s over there. Says his name is Jared and claims he doesn’t have an ID. He came into the store with an empty backpack and filled it with merchandise. I have it all on video.”
“Thanks, Joey,” I said, as I walked over to the seated shoplifter. Beside him on the floor was a beat-up old backpack, filled with store items.
“So your name’s Jared?” I asked the young man.
“Yep,” he said without looking at me.
“Got any ID on you?” I asked.
“Nope.” The young man glanced at me, briefly.
Joey pointed out that the shoplifter appeared to have a wallet in his back pocket. I told the young man to stand up and retrieved the wallet. Inside, I found his driver’s license.
“Well shoot, Jared, your ID says your name is Travis,” I said, holding the ID up in front of him.
“My friends call me Jared,” he said, with a snide look on his face.
“There is another old poet whose name I do not now remember who said, ‘Truth is the daughter of time.’” -Abraham Lincoln
I read Travis his rights and asked him if he wanted to tell me why his backpack was filled with stolen property.
“That’s not my backpack,” Travis said. “I found it and was going to turn it in.”
Joey chimed in and said, “Yeah, except we have you on camera coming into the store with the backpack. And then I watched you on video surveillance creeping around the store, slipping merchandise into the backpack.”
“Whatever,” Travis said.
Needless to say, Travis was arrested and successfully prosecuted for petty theft. As a young rookie, I learned a sad truth about people. A truth that knew no ethnic, age, gender, or socioeconomic boundaries.
What was this universal truth?
The truth is incontrovertible
Sometimes, our mendacious proclivities start when we’re young. Really young.
An article in the Telegraph cites researchers who found babies as young as six months old will fake their crying for attention.
The Telegraph article notes:
“Dr. Reddy said: ‘Fake crying is one of the earliest forms of deception to emerge, and infants use it to get attention even though nothing is wrong. You can tell, as they will then pause while they wait to hear if their mother is responding, before crying again.’”
In my law enforcement career, I experienced people lying to me every day. I watched a Mercedes fly through a stop sign once and pulled over the car.
The driver was an elegantly dressed, middle-aged woman. I approached the driver’s side door and asked the woman to roll down her window. She lowered it half-way.
“Good afternoon, ma’am, do you know why I stopped you?”
“No, I don’t, Officer. I’m an attorney and I’m late for a deposition. Will this take long?” she said in an annoyed tone, as she looked down at her watch.
“No, not too long. I stopped you for running that stop sign behind us. I’ll need your license, registration, and proof of insurance.”
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” -Winston Churchill
“She lowered her sunglasses, glared at me, and said with a straight face, “What are you talking about! I stopped for that stop sign. I drive past here every day, and I always stop.”
“I’m sorry ma’am, but you didn’t stop today,” I said.
“Yes, I did, Officer. And you don’t want to go to traffic court with me.”
I think she thought that the fact she was an attorney would intimidate me, which was silly. I went to court all the time, didn’t mind the overtime, and knew every excuse in the book.
What amazed me was how a seemingly mature, educated person could lie so flagrantly. Why do some people find it so hard to take personal responsibility for their actions?
I issued her a ticket, but she never took me to court.
We become progressively color-blind
It wasn’t just my law enforcement career that opened my eyes to the ubiquity of lying. I witnessed it with family, friends, and even in myself.
We all tell white lies. Little fibs designed to spare someone’s feelings. Or we simply lack the courage to tell the truth.
“When we tell little white lies, we become progressively color-blind. It is better to remain silent than to mislead.” -James E. Faust
Sometimes friends would call and invite me to an event. Instead of being honest and say, “That’s so thoughtful of you, and I hope you won’t be hurt, but I’d rather pass this time,” I often made up an excuse.
“I’d love to go, but I have a conflict,” I might say. Of course, if they asked about the conflict, then I had to lie some more, and the whole thing started to snowball.
Are white lies a bad thing? An article in Psychology Today shared the following observations:
“Individuals of all ages who have empathy understand that sometimes telling little white lies can protect other people from getting hurt unnecessarily,” says Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Fairfield County, Connecticut. “Most people that I have come across tell these little white lies because they understand that 100 percent honesty all of the time is not beneficial.”
There’s nothing wrong with empathy, and the desire to spare people from being hurt. However, white lies can come back to bite us. When we tell them to avoid accountability, we invite mistrust and injure our integrity.
According to Dr. Julie Breur in the Psychology Today article:
“I recommend that when you are about to tell a white lie, take a moment and ask yourself why not just tell the truth — slow down and think out how to kindly express your truth.”
A lie will destroy you
The worst kind of lying might be when we lie to ourselves. It’s human nature to avoid pain and seek the path of least resistance. The problem is that in the crucible of life, it’s the hard edges and endless challenges that shape our character and resiliency.
According to an article in Lifehack.com:
“A lie is something that you make yourself believe in order to make life a little easier. A lie is a paradigm under which you operate to avoid pain. A lie will destroy you, inside and out. A lie is something you want to believe because to consider the opposite would hurt your ego.”
We lie to ourselves all the time. When we constantly seek the easy over the difficult, we are lying to ourselves. When we think we can handle everything by ourselves, we are lying to ourselves.
When we embrace distractions over challenges, we are lying to ourselves. When we chase popularity and social media likes over authenticity, we are lying to ourselves. And when we settle versus doggedly pursuing our goal, we are lying to ourselves.
The key is to summon our courage. To forgive ourselves for past lies, and get comfortable facing the truth. If it’s true that the truth will set you free, then what are you waiting for?
“Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.” -George S. Patton
Yes, it will be hard. Facing our shortcomings, our addictions, our pettiness, our shallow egos, and our laziness is never easy. Positive change takes work. But it’s the kind of work that feels good because it brings us closer to becoming our best selves.
Lying is a destructive habit. We may begin with little white lies. Maybe we convince ourselves that we’re sparing the feelings of others. But then we get comfortable with lying. Soon we’re lying about bigger things. People begin to trust us less. Worst of all, we start lying to ourselves. Believing our cow manure. And then we wonder why we’re so unhappy.
Such a lonely word
One of the greatest hits by singer and songwriter Billy Joel is his song “Honesty.” Here are a few of the lyrics:
Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you
Watch to enjoy Billy Joel performing this song.
Billy Joel was right. Honesty is such a lonely word. Yet it’s the cure for so much of what makes us miserable in life. If we could only start being honest with others, and especially ourselves, we could begin the fulfilling work of becoming better people.
It’s never too late to start. Forgive yourself for past mistakes. Start being honest with people. Use some grace, kindness, and tact, but tell the truth. And most of all, start being honest with yourself. Do this, and a much better life will open up for you.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life. Get on my free newsletter list here.
This article originally appeared on Medium.