Lying Might Be the Best Thing You Do Today

Or it might be the worst. A case for both.

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I'm Full of S*** and Proud

Rebecca Bates, senior editor, @re.beccabates

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Once in 11th grade, a friend and I stayed after school to make up a physics test we'd missed. I hadn't studied, didn't know the material, and copied my friend's answers. I immediately felt such crippling remorse that I walked over to the teacher's desk and said, "I just cheated on this, so can I have a blank test to start over?" My teacher, an elderly man, didn't want to stay any later than he had to, and he didn't particularly care that the answers on the page weren't mine. "It's OK," he said, "just give me the test." But I insisted: I was a shitty physics student, and I needed to prove it to him. I was also obviously a shitty liar.

All good liars are able to fight that impulse to atone for rule-breaking left over from childhood.

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I've spent childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood looping the same question in the back of my mind ad infinitum (and, really, ad nauseam): At any given moment, am I telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Trying to conduct myself so that the answer is always yes, the last nearly three decades have been shrouded in a very specific feverish guilt. It's simply too difficult to live like that anymore.

Some lies should not be told, of course. Cheating (see above) of any kind is one of the worst forms of lying. You probably shouldn't do it. But a life of total honesty is impossible, and, I've come to believe, unhealthy.

So when and how to lie? First, all good adult liars I've ever met seem to be able to fight that impulse to atone for rule-breaking left over from childhood. As a teenager, if I were to sneak out after curfew and then if my parents were to confront me directly about this infraction, I'd confess. After all, I was living in their house, they were feeding me and clothing me and giving me a good life simply because they love me.

Lying is a way to maintain autonomy over your daily choices and reinforce someone else's sense of humanity.

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Fine. But I am an adult now, and there's just more to be gained from lying my way out of admitting to or doing something I don't want to. I'm a writer, and I know when I occasionally miss deadlines it's important to have a bank of untrue excuses at my disposal. A water pipe bursting or a bout of the flu that sends me to a fake doctor appointment buys me a few hours. Another excuse I'm saving: The elderly woman in the apartment below me fell in the stairwell, and I needed to help her get back inside and call her adult son. My relationships with editors have improved as my lying has.

Also, it's important to remember that lying is about power, which is a complex, delicate thing. Lying is a way to both maintain autonomy over your daily choices and reinforce someone else's sense of humanity. Not wanting to get drinks with a bunch of women I only sort of knew in college because our alumni association happens to be hosting an event in New York is a perfectly fine reason to lie. Sorry, ladies, a last-minute project came up at work. I'm important, and I'm needed. See, I'm in control of my destiny now.

And when my husband was still just my boyfriend, and we were broke graduate students, and he went to Supercuts and got the worst haircut of his life because that's what he could afford, I lied. My friends lied. We said his hair looked great. We loved it! What a stud! He knew we were lying, of course, but in doing so, we showed just how far we'd go to protect his vanity. Would he have rather we told the truth? Just texted him to ask, and he replied, "No. I prefer to keep my delusions."

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Four Reasons You Should Tell Nothing But the Truth

Stefan Marolachakis, senior editor, @stefanmymind

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No. 1: It's Wrong, You'll Go to Hell, Etc.

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave / when first we practice to deceive." Ever since first hearing them in a junior high English class, the timeless words of early 19th-century poet Walter Scott have echoed in my mind. Yes, lying can be the gateway drug into a life riddled with wrongdoing, if you're to believe Scott, and I did.

You know who else I believed? My mom. Growing up, I was the classic goody-two-shoes. If I was undercharged at a store, you'd better believe I was telling the cashier. Money on the ground? I'm asking around to see who might have dropped it. I was blessed—or cursed, as some proponents of deception would say—to have a mother so pure of spirit, so angelic, that I could never stomach doing her wrong.

I will say this, though: truthfulness has never been purely an act of philanthropy for me. While I am not a religious man, I do believe in some cosmic system of checks and balances—you can call it karma—and I just never felt that one can get away with dirty deeds free of charge. That stuff will always come back to get you, in some fashion.

No. 2: The Truth Is the Easiest Thing to Remember

Some point to Mark Twain as being the first to popularize this phrase, but I best remember it as stated by Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross, the classic 1992 film about a group of real estate salesmen fighting tooth and nail to survive in the industry. "Always tell the truth," he says to one of his colleagues. "It's the easiest thing to remember."

And he's right. Beyond the moralistic stances, the intrinsic overall do-goodery of never telling a lie, there is a functional, practical reason not to: you're setting yourself up for failure. Lies birth more lies, and before long you're going to find yourself tangled in Mr. Scott's aforementioned web, exposed and ashamed.

Well, that is, if you're bad at lying—which I hope you are. Because if not, then you have fallen victim to the most dangerous aspect of the practice.

No. 3: The Worst Habit of All Is Lying to Yourself

In order to be an excellent liar, you need to believe your lies. And for that to happen, you have to be adept at lying to yourself—and that is the most poisonous aspect of it all. Once you start believing your own lies, you can basically say goodbye to ever having a productive relationship with another human again.

See, true connection with another person is predicated not only on communication, but the willingness to admit your faults. And once you've taught yourself to enjoy the taste of your own Kool-Aid, you've lost that ability.

No. 4: Lying Is a Headache You Just Don't Need

It's really kind of simple: it's not just better to avoid lying—it's easier. Truth-telling isn't just for the law-abiding and the righteous; it's also for the lazy, the slackers, those who just don't want to be bothered. Lying just isn't all it's cracked up to be. Eventually, you'll get caught—and even if you don't, you'll spend your whole life waiting for it to happen. And that, my friends, is no way to live.

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