Live Honest or Die Trying: My Experience With the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

My cheeks are glistening pink roses as heat rises in my face. My eyes begin to water as my brain panics, struggling to craft the perfect response. The truth. It has to be the truth. I inhale deeply. Here goes nothing.

“Yeah…I was invited to the other homecoming dinner. And yes, there’s another group chat that none of you are in.” Then silence. You could cut the tension between myself and my five friends with a knife.

“Well are you going to that one, or are you going to come to the dinner I planned? ’Cause we’re all going to that.” My friend Kate says straightforwardly, her voice trembling with emotion. Again, I pause and think before speaking. The truth. It has to be the truth.

“I’m not sure. I haven’t decided yet. I guess I’m — I’m still figuring everything out.” Just as I expect, I receive a huffy breath and a rolling of eyes as a response from two of the five friends standing in front of me. Who would have thought telling the truth could cause so many problems?

Five days without telling a single lie didn’t seem very difficult when I thought about it. Then again, most things don’t, when you don’t actually have to do them. I was sick and tired of hearing only the convenient part of the story from the people who I considered my friends. I was sick and tired of the trivial drama created by these half-truths. I was sick and tired of this blatant dishonesty that was becoming a subconscious habit for so many of the people in my life. As Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker and author so eloquently stated, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” My first encounter with this quote sent me into a panic. How could I sit by and let my world become a haphazard swamp filled with dishonest creatures? It was my responsibility, my civic duty to assure an honest, uplifting community! So, as one individual, I did what I could to make a change. I decided to take a hiatus from lying and immerse myself in a world filled with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I hoped in the end that the world would repay me for my actions by allowing me to exist in a community where honesty was not only promoted, but where there was no other viable option.

Day one of my new life consisted mostly of avoiding any situation where I may feel the need to tell a white lie. I ate my whole breakfast, cleaned my room, made my bed. I finished my homework, picked up the dog’s poop, buckled my seatbelt. It was refreshing, not having to worry about little things piling up until they became an unbearable load on my shoulders. I felt cleaner; honesty was a sponge, bleaching and scrubbing away the dirt and grime of past lies which stained my soul. Since this one, small improvement in my life caused me to buzz with contentment, I longed for more. I wanted to know everything there was to know about lying, telling the truth, and how they both affect the average human being.

According to Dr. Patricia Geiselman of Psychology Today, liars “tend to repeat questions before answering them,” and “when pressed, liars will generally not provide more details, while truthful people will deny they are lying and provide more and more details of events to buttress their explanation” (DiSalvo 2011). When I reflected upon this information, it seemed almost the inverse of what I expected. In my mind, a liar would fabricate more and more details to make their story seem believable, while a truth-teller would have no need to provide detail because they were, after all, telling the truth. Due to my complete lack of knowledge on the subject, I realized the ideas I created within my own brain didn’t hold a candle to those of a certified psychologist, so I presented myself with another challenge: while being honest myself, I’d also observe others in their natural habitat and see what happened when I disputed a liar’s story.

So I observed, listened, spied, and snooped. Every time I asked a friend a question I knew the answer to, I paused to observe the answer and see if these symptoms occurred. Sometimes they did, and I would notice. Since my goal throughout this process was not to remain silent and almost omniscient, but instead to address the issue in order to create a safer, more honest community for myself and for everyone around me, I was almost annoying. I would directly confront the person who lied, ask them for the truth, and then question why they lied. Usually the response was something along the lines of, “what are you talking about? I’m not lying,” or an embarrassed shrug and a hateful glare. But the thing is, it didn’t matter how they responded. It didn’t matter what they said, or how they reacted, or the expression on their face when they did so. What mattered was the feeling that overcame them when they were completely humiliated by lying, and saw that it was a horrible thing to do that might embarrass them time and time again. It was pointless, and they shouldn’t do it. I was doing them a favor by being annoying. I was breaking their habit, and hopefully, they would pay it forward and break someone else’s habit until we exist in an entirely honest, uplifting community where no one feels the pressure or the need to be dishonest. It’s true that I was forcing this honesty upon others, but there was a flaw in my system. I felt the requirements I set for myself were inadequate. How could I hold myself to this same standard?

I figured I would start by doing the same thing to myself that I did to everyone else. Every time I felt my brain panicking and straining to form a response that may not have been entirely true, I refrained. I took a deep breath, and said, “I was just about to tell a lie. I was going to blatantly lie to your face.” For example, when I asked for an extension on an assignment due the morning after I was accepted into college. My AP Psychology teacher asked me the reasoning behind my panicked email at 10:48 pm, and I paused. Again, I took a deep breath.

“I could try to fabricate a convincing story, and I almost did. But here’s the truth: I was accepted to Wake Forest last night, and I went out to dinner with my family. I wasn’t thinking about my AP Psychology test or the implications of not studying enough.” Yes, it was extremely uncomfortable that I was embarrassing myself and telling the painfully whole truth. But was it necessary? Absolutely. By holding myself to this same standard to which I held each and every one of my peers, I wasn’t being a hypocrite, nor was I shoving the responsibility upon someone’s lap. I was attempting to make a difference in the community around me, but also within myself.

A few days after assuming the role of an honest-to-goodness human being, I became anxious. Sure, a few days without a spat between friends was a normal occurrence, but I knew once a lie came between myself and another peer of mine, it had the potential to become a full-scale World War III. I knew this lifestyle was too good to be true. I knew this sense of serenity could not last, and I was simply in the eye of a hurricane of potential lies. In my mind, this was the calm before the storm. And unfortunately, I was right.

Sure enough, the weekend following my five days of honesty included a night filled with the exclusion, catfights, and drama that only a high school dance could offer. Not only did this craziness surround the dance itself, but also the dinner before where shiny new spray tans and freshly-bleached pearly whites would be flashed for countless luddite parents wondering why the screens of their Nikon D3300s were still dark. (Hint: the lens cap is probably still on.) Homecoming was the MICDS version of the Grammys and some students would stop at nothing for their fifteen seconds of fame on the red carpet, no matter who became collateral damage in the process. Every year, there are usually two of these pre-homecoming dinners and photo sessions: one for the people deemed “acceptable” to be a part of the in crowd, and another for those who just didn’t make the cut. This year, I was foolish enough to think things might change for our senior year. Silly me. Little did I know, I would be the one in the most uncomfortable situation of all.

Much to my surprise, I was invited to both dinners. One was hosted by my close girl friend, and the other hosted by my close guy friend. When people started asking questions, it became harder and harder to tell the truth. However difficult it may have been, I had made a decision to tell the truth, and I continued to do so. I clung tightly to my plan and told the truth through every uncomfortable situation: those that placed obstacles in my friendships and created tension between parents. In a way, I was grateful this situation had meandered into my life. While it was extremely tense and awkward at certain points, it served as a learning experience for me: holding myself to the same standards of truth to which I hold my peers and my superiors was difficult, but in the end, it is not the simple or easy thing that changes your outlook on life. It is, rather, the task which challenges you, your mindset, and every aspect of your being that will transform you into someone you are proud to be. Reflecting on my experience, I’m satisfied in stating this experience of immersion did just that.

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