So, I have a major flaw: I tend to stretch the truth. I don't necessarily lie for the sake of deceiving someone, but if there's a need to say, sugarcoat or fib for the sake of moving happily along through life, I'll do it. Given that this is the 20 year anniversary of the film Liar Liar, I decided to test myself and go far outside my comfort zone by attempting to not lie for an entire week.
This experiment would be an extension of Liar Liar's premise: Fletcher Reede (played by the posterboy for '90s comedians, Jim Carrey) is bewitched to not lie for 24 hours after making excuses that cause him to miss his son's birthday party. His son makes the wish and the next day is full of honesty-driven hilarity. Fletcher, a lawyer, finds that his ability to bend the truth to win a court case is compromised. He is a fountain of truth bombs and, contrary to the reputation he had created as a profoundly great liar for his own benefit and comfort, finds that maybe there's something to this thing called "honesty."
That's what I decided to do. My driving question: Is honest really the best policy? I would tell the truth at every opportunity, even if it meant things would get awkward. It soon became evident that I actually tend to stretch the truth — OK, fine, I'll say it: "lie" — more than I realize. This experiment tested some of my close relationships but for the most part, it was the most productive social experiment I think I'd ever done.
"I can do this," I told myself as I made my coffee on Sunday morning. In reality, I didn't think I could. The mere prospect of a whole week of telling the truth) despite that fact that I have a deep-seated instinct to people-please) sounded torturous. It wouldn't be the easiest thing in the world but I was hoping it would at least be illuminating.
I set some ground rules:
- Always tell the truth, even if the truth is going to cause conflict.
- Don't use rude or hurtful language. Just because I'm telling the truth it doesn't mean I have to be a jerk.
- If a conflict should arise from voicing my truth, try and work it out.
- If I do lie, admit it, recant it, and then tell the person what you actually mean.
This was going to be tougher in practice than in theory. Sunday, luckily, was usually my quiet day during the week so I didn't leave the house. You know those days: Pajamas, Netflix, and snacks. There was one point when I was forced to tell the truth and that was when my mom texted me asking for my opinion on a new sweater she bought.
Uh oh. It was horrible. Not the right color at all for her. The problem was, I'm not used to telling her these kinds of truths because, while we are quite close, I usually stretch the truth just to avoid conflict. This was not one of those times. I took a deep breath and wrote back.
A little confused but not nearly as annoyed as I thought she'd be, my mom texted back, "OK," and that was the end of it. Maybe this experiment wouldn't be so bad after all.
Monday was tough. The first big obstacle was remembering to be honest with my family, and since we maintain a pretty live family group chat, this was a minefield. It became clear throughout the day that when the time came for me to react or offer an opinion, my family was not liking it as much as I was.
A particularly awkward instance of this came when my youngest sister Facetimed me to ask for friendship advice. I won't go into details, for the sake of her privacy, but I offered a pretty brutal answer about whether or not she should keep a particularly annoying friend in her life. I think her huffy reply and the words she exhaled before abruptly hanging up ("Well, you didn't have to say it like that") set the tone for how this weeklong honesty experiment would go.
Tuesday was tough. I got into approximately six fiery spats with my each of my sisters (three apiece, which is pretty hefty) and at one point, my middle sister Facetimed me to tell me she didn't understand where this brutal honesty was coming from. I told her the truth, that it was part of an experiment, but I was also truthful in admitting to her that I liked being honest. There was a great relief in no sugarcoating my feelings or thoughts for other people. Maybe this honesty thing wasn't so bad.
Just kidding. It was all bad. By mid-week, I was ready to call it quits. It's not that I was annoyed at voicing my real and honest feelings when asked, but it was tiring to constantly remind to be honest. Telling little fibs comes with the benefit of maintaining a certain level of social equilibrium. Things remain uncomplicated when you can just say something to keep the social waters calm.
Correcting baristas at Starbucks who didn't make my order correctly (that was my big Wednesday highlight) and telling my two friends from high school who I hadn't seen in a few months how I was feeling during a lunch date (most of the time the answer moved from "tired" to "stress" to "annoyed") was just exhausting. I became self-conscious about the fact the my honesty was making me out to be an unhappy person. Am I genuinely that way or was this honesty experiment just messing with my head?
Thursday was the day I slipped up with this experiment. After a week of total honesty, I was exhausted and fibbed about how well the experiment was going when my work colleague asked how things were going. I said it was fun and relatively easy — a total lie. If my nose had the ability to grow, that would have been a pretty appropriate time.
Thank goodness it was Friday. A relatively quiet day. I was working for most of it, so that meant I spent a fair amount of time writing and not interacting with others. The break from being honest meant that my mind wasn't racing and I wasn't hyper-aware of how my words were affecting others. While I appreciated the break, I think a part of me missed having the chance to be honest and, in the process, show a different side of myself.
Saturday ended up being a calm, smooth finish to a weird week. I was mostly locked to my desk and working, so that mean I had zero chances to lie. I spent eight hours working and the other 10 hours or so I was awake catching up on business e-mails and personal correspondences. Of course, it wouldn't be cool to lie in a business e-mail, so honesty took the wheel there. As for personal correspondences, I gave my life updates to the few friends I was chatting with as honestly as possible. The highs, the low, and the in-betweens all got laid bare and there were some friends I hadn't spoken to in years. I got cautiously optimistic replies but overall, telling the truth about the state of my life wasn't as weird as I thought it would be.
In the end, telling the truth wasn't the worst thing in the world. It definitely opened up some new levels in my relationships with my close friends and family. That said, I think that my biggest takeaway from this week of honesty was that it ultimately felt good to not mince words. Then again, there was a benefit to stretching the truth when it ultimately doesn't hurt someone. It was time to be honest with myself: Being honest was a nice improvement for me because it alleviated my social anxiety that stemmed from people-pleasing, but like stretching the truth, it would have to be done sparingly perhaps once this week was over.