Let’s face an unpalatable truth together, shall we? We ALL lie. Yup, when occasion suits our needs, even those of us who are honest almost all the time and pride ourselves on our integrity are still prone to exaggerate, understate, omit, prevaricate (go ahead, look it up), or explicitly speak what we know not to be true. Human beings have emotions, and to paint in broad stokes, we prefer the good ones to the bad ones; so sometimes we delude ourselves that telling a white, or sometimes black, lie will feel better than suffering the short-term pain that telling the truth sometimes involves.
The worst thing that can happen when you dissemble the truth in any fashion is to get away with it. “Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?” asks mom, staring you down and ready to pounce after a long, hard day. “Not me,” you reply, feigning innocence, and off she goes to the next suspect. Whew, got away with that one; so glad I didn’t have to face the wrath of mom! But like winning once at the casino, you will be deluded into thinking you can do it over the long run. You can’t. The house always wins in the end, and lies always catch up with you in the end.
Take it from me, who learned this lesson not from any of the many academic institutions I attended or at which I’ve taught, but in the school of hard knocks. Here are four reasons why lying, though it may seem an easy way out in the short run, is a really bad idea in every context:
- Once people catch on, and they will eventually, it will be a long, uphill battle to regain their trust. As a Facebook poster puts it, “I’m not so upset you lied to me; I’m upset I can’t trust you anymore.” That sucks.
- Lying in any form takes a tremendous amount of energy to keep stories straight. Wait, what did I tell him about that? Wait, does she know what really happened, or just what I told her what happened? As Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Imagine if you could recapture the considerable psychic energy that goes into weaving the tangled webs of deception, including self-deception: you could learn a new language, practice an instrument, think about life, sleep better, and on and on and on, not to mention stand up straighter and breathe much more easily. Your limited energy is too precious to squander.
- Lying beats the hell out of your conscience, teaching it to shut up and not do its job. Why would you want to do that to a very important part of yourself? Not cool.
- Perhaps most importantly, you run the great risk of losing yourself. Tell lies long enough and you will grow confused between what’s real and what’s the story I’m putting out there. Such confusion will bleed into every relationship you have—which “you” are various people having a relationship with? And if you don’t have real relationships—I hope you’re paying attention—YOU HAVE NOTHING.
The best dramatization of the negative consequences of lying I know of is Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. If you’ve read this in school (and really, you need a teacher to get the most out of this particular romance), you should know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t read it, put it on your summer reading list (and in lieu of a teacher you can find great articles about it all over the internet; or feel free to email me questions or comments as you go, as I never tire of discussing it). You’re welcome.
Ok Dr. Pop Psychologist, you may be thinking, I’ve heard all this from my parents (’cept maybe The Scarlet Letter part), and what the bleep does this have to do with getting into college? Don’t you know THAT’s the only reason people read this blog? BTW, your posts are WAY too long.
Good question, glad you asked, and thanks for the constructive criticism. Telling the truth leads to much greater clarity about who you really are. I’m guessing if you’re like most adolescents, you’ve asked yourself who you are on more than one occasion, and it may have caused you some level of discomfort when the answer wasn’t readily available. I myself used a Hermann Hesse (Demian) quote on my yearbook page back in 1982: “I wanted only to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?” When it comes time to apply to college (which, incidentally, is this SUMMER for rising seniors), your greatest task is to communicate your passions. And your writing has to be genuine. Admissions committees can smell when you’re slinging it from miles away. If you give constant attention to speaking only the truth, you will gain far greater clarity about who you really are, your true passions will come right to the surface, and without even trying you will write better and far more compelling essays. I worked with a great student a few years ago who came to me with a draft about how he freaked out about losing a gold cross pendant chain in a snow bank because it came from his grandmother on her deathbed and meant so much to him on so many levels. It was horrible and I told him so. He heaved a huge sigh of relief (which is always the case when you come clean about lying) and said, “Yeah, I made the whole thing up.” No pendant, no gift from grandma, no deathbed. With some pointed questions and a whole lot of introspection on his part, he ended up writing a fabulous essay about how his earliest memories of being an escape artist—from high chairs to car seats to whatever else his parents tried unsuccessfully to keep him from scurrying away—and how that morphed into intellectual escape artistry and finally into a passion for becoming an engineer. He got into 7 out of the 8 colleges to which he applied. So yeah, telling the truth can go a long way toward getting you into college.
Finally, if you happen to be a rising senior, here’s some great advice (ok, obviously we’re biased, but it’s still great advice ;-)): Sign up TODAY for one of our 5-day CommonApp Boot Camps. We will help get you in. For more on writing genuine college essays that work, listen to our “Prep Talk” with CollegePrepExpress: Admission: The Book, the Movie, and Application Packaging