I loved the TV show House. Well, the first few seasons of it, anyway.
I’m a nerdy Sherlock Holmes fan, so when the creators of House took the general DNA of Sherlock Holmes and put it into the character of a grumpy addict who also happened to be a brilliant doctor, I was sold. (Plus, Hugh Laurie is a genius as Dr. Gregory House. Go listen to his actual voice – you’re freaked out he’s not American, right?! Because it sounds wrong? But I digress.)
One of the basic tenants of House’s belief system is that everybody lies – particularly patients. In fact, it’s a quote: It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what. The reason why he’s able to diagnose the craziest diseases (but not vasculitis; it’s never vasculitis) is because he doesn’t allow his patients to hide behind the white lies that they tell out of embarrassment or unwise desires to keep something a secret from a loved one.
While most characters on the show think it’s a pathetic way to live, it seems to serve House well. I mean, he’s miserable and all that (addict!), but in terms of being a successful diagnostician – it’s the only way to go.
Part of the reason why House has his worldview is because he lies to himself constantly. By projecting his tendency to lie to himself unto other people, he therefore justifies his actions and can wallow in his misery.
Other characters get mad at House about his worldview because it so often turns out to be true and makes them question their beliefs. They lie to themselves by pretending a situation or person is a certain way, and then are disappointed when the picture they’ve painted in their minds is the opposite.
So why do I bring up House?
I bring this up because people in the working world need to accept the fact that everybody lies. Not to the extent that House believes, but it’s there. In varying degrees…it’s there.
- We lie about what happened on a project: “I have no idea who approved that approach, but it doesn’t sound like something I would say.”
- We lie about our motivations: “I’m taking that job to make a difference! Oh, does it pay more? I had no idea.”
- We lie about leaving a horrible job: “Next time she says something like that, I’m gonna quit!.” [she says something like that] “Next time…”
- We lie about why we rated an employee too high: “It has NOTHING to do with the fact I think they deserve a higher raise.”
- We lie about why we rated an employee too low: “It has NOTHING to do with the fact that this employee proved I was wrong about something.”
- We lie about employment decisions: “HR said I had to fire you. If it were up to me, I would never do that….”
We lie to cope with tough situations. We lie to cover our butts. We lie to spare feelings or soften the blow. We lie to connect to others. We lie to look smarter than we are. We lie to look dumber than we are. We lie to get ahead at work. We lie to pick our battles.
We lie. We lie. We lie.
I want to make this next point loud and clear, okay: THERE ARE DEGREES OF LYING AND LYING 100% OF THE TIME IS A DICK MOVE, SO DON’T DO IT. I do not, in any way, condone a sociopathic narcissist who lives his/her life telling one lie after another.
Got it? Good.
Some lies make it necessary to live in a society. If we were 100% transparent all the time, it might work – but only if we could tell the truth about never taking anything personally. And we know how much of a lie that can be, right? On the flip side, society can’t survive if we lie 100% of the time either. That’s why we all walk a tightrope. Most of the time, we don’t even realize we’re lying.
I am not a miserable, paranoid person. I don’t think everyone is out to lie every time they open their mouth. I am constantly awestruck by our ability as humans to show compassion, love, support, selflessness – all of it. I tend to think overall, humans are pretty damn cool and have the capacity to be amazing. And we also have the capacity to lie. A lot. About lots of things – most of them tiny, stupid things that don’t matter at all. (Hell, I could be lying right now – how would you know?)
So how do we deal with all the pretty little liars out there? Do we give up and start lying more? Of course not.
Try this. Give people some grace. Give yourself some grace.
When you catch someone in a lie, find out why. Have you created a safe environment? Or do people feel like they have to lie in order to survive around you? Do you fail to reward truthiness? Do you only award people who tell you what they want to hear? Are you, yourself, as truthful as you could be? Are you honest with others? Are you honest with yourself?
And if a person continues to show a pattern of lying despite the work you’ve done to establish trust, then get them out of your life. You are under no obligation to lie to yourself to condone constant lying that hurts you or your organization.
The best way to survive and thrive is to acknowledge that…and then move on from there to build relationships with people who matter so they tell the truth when it’s most important.
The most common lie is that which one lies to himself: lying to others is relatively an exception.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Truth begins in lies.
~ Gregory House, MD