"O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!"--Sir Walter Scott
The problem with lying is not that it is immoral so much as that it is not efficacious in business or in life. Research increasingly shows that lying can impact your health just as surely as not eating your veggies, not exercising, eating too much butter, or smoking.
Yup. For example, Dr. Anita Kelley of Notre Dame has done an interesting "science of honesty" study recently. She tested 110 subjects, half of whom were told to stop telling lies for ten weeks and half of whom were given no special advisement about lying. When those in the no-lie group told three fewer lies than in other weeks, they complained less of headaches, tension, sore throats, anxiety and other maladies than those in the control group. The non-lying participants also reported that their close personal relationships had improved and their social interactions were more easeful.
Dr. Kelley's study is confirmed by the work of Dr. Deirdre Fitzgerald of Eastern Connecticut State University. Fitzgerald reports that lying is taxing for both your physical and emotional health. Unless you are a sociopath, long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems and can decrease longevity, increase depression and anxiety, damage your relationships, and shatter your self-esteem.
So what's the take-away here for us entrepreneurs?
Well, I guess for me telling the truth and selling the truth is the very best palliative for my stressful entrepreneurial life. (That, with exercise and yoga, anyway.)
I recently found this quote from Ken Makovsky about lies. Ken, who writes on communications issues in Forbes, says the following: "I love the truth. It can be harsh or resolute but it stands as a barricade against the goblins that dance with lies in your head. If you tell the truth you have clarity. You stand proud. You are stress-free. You never have to remember what you said because the truth is easy to recall..." Ken notes that the greatest business value in truth for the businessman is simply that it leads to trust in an increasingly fast-paced and elusive business environment.
I'm sure you have seen that delightful commercial for GEICO which shows Abraham Lincoln being asked by his wife if her dress makes her look fat. He squirms frantically as he tries to find something true to say that won't damage his marriage.
I don't think we need to be as scrupulous as "Honest Abe." There is always a need for kindness, tact, and illustrative metaphor and drama, which may not always be literally true. But not lying should help ease the daily stress of our crisis-prone entrepreneurial vocation.
One great wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous is that you begin the recovery process by telling the truth to yourself and to others in all your affairs and interactions. That proven way leads to health, healing, strength, and clarity. As Jesus says in John 8:32, "Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."
Of course, telling the truth is often not perfectly simple. As Benjamin Disraeli famously said, "There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics." Thank you, Benjamin.