My Mum is, quintessentially, an honest woman. When my brother got his phone out to cheat on a pub quiz, the hard stare (or, as I like to call it, the “Mum eyebrows”) he received could have rivalled Paddington’s. I made the mistake of mentioning that, to get out of dealing with cold-callers, I tell them my Manager is currently in a meeting, and my Mum was stricken with disbelief that I would dare lie – particularly as I work for a church. She is dripping with integrity, my Mother, in a way that I largely make fun of, but secretly admire. Because, if I’m honest, none of us are really that, well, honest, are we?
I’m not saying we all go around spouting absolute corkers of untruth, but we can easily fall into the habit of making things look better than they actually are. We tell little white lies to spare someone’s feelings, even if their cake was actually dry and, frankly, not worth the calories. We go into job interviews and big up our tiny achievements, when, “I was instrumental in reorganising the company’s entire administrative system” actually means, “I started putting coloured sticky dots on the files”. We embellish stories with each re-telling. We make up excuses for why we’re bailing on that party. Apparently honesty is the best policy, but that’s not how you get ahead.
And how do you live honestly when we live in a world built on suggestion over facts? When was the last time you saw an advert that said exactly what the product did, without somehow suggesting that buying it will make you stronger, happier, prettier, more alive? I went to see The Invention of Lying a decade ago, but one aspect of the (otherwise pretty rubbish) film has stayed with me. When Mark flips on the TV, he sees a Coke ad featuring a bored-looking spokesperson who blandly urges his audience “to not stop buying Coke.” He can’t say anything more than that, because this is a world in which you cannot lie. You can’t paint a picture of anything better than the truth, which in this case is they just want you to keep buying Coke. Later we see another ad emblazoned on the side of a bus that reads, in a brazen admission of defeat, “Pepsi: When they don’t have Coke.”
Imagine a world where not only advertisers, but everyone had to be honest. Imagine politicians promising only what they could achieve, or not winning votes based on fake news. Imagine Instagram with no editing or filtering or just the highlight reel of someone’s day. Imagine contestants on The Apprentice looking into the camera and saying, “I’m pretty good at my job. I rarely slack off to check Facebook, and otherwise things often turn out OK.” Or, even better, imagine a scene in the boardroom at the end where they don’t pass blame and tear each other down, but instead say, “Actually, that bit was my fault, sorry.” Arguably it would be a far less dramatic format, but I might be able to watch it without getting riled up into a state of pure fury.
I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if there were more people like my Mum in the world? Wouldn’t it take a load off your mind if, instead of trying to think of ways to get out of something, you could simply say, “I just don’t want to”? Wouldn’t it revolutionise your friendships if you said, “I love you, but I’m worried about the way you’re behaving” or “You haven’t been a brilliant friend lately” or, even, “I know I haven’t been a brilliant friend lately.” Wouldn’t your workplace change for the better if we admitted, “I don’t know how to do that, but I’m happy to learn” or “The culture around here is stressful, and it’s starting to affect my mental health.” And wouldn’t single people around the world rejoice if every person they dated had an honest Tinder profile, and just came out and said what they wanted?
I think life is just better when we’re honest. When we communicate clearly and directly (but still kindly) we know where we stand in our relationships and can improve upon whatever needs fixing. When we stop embellishing our stories (which, among my friends, is known as the “Satchell Sprinkle” so this is very much the blind leading the blind here*) we become free from the guilt and stress of trying to hide the less-than-brilliant parts of ourselves – or being found out later. And yes, when we stop fobbing off cold-callers and tell them we’re just not interested, they might stop calling – which is what I actually wanted in the first place.
So loathe as I am to admit when my Mother – and, to an extent, Ricky Gervais – is right, I think we need to tell fewer white lies and speak more often in truth and love. That does not mean being brutal with people about all their faults. It’s not about going round saying, “Well I say it how it is and if you don’t like it you can jog on.” But let’s beat around the bush a bit less. Let’s stop making everything seem better than it really is. Let’s be authentic about how things make us feel, or what kind of day we’re having. When we glaze over the truth we think we’re making things easier, but I really do believe that more honesty will lead to a better, kinder world for everyone – honest.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti
*In the interest of complete honesty, the examples I gave at the beginning of this blog are true. However, I have written many, many blogs over the years, and I can’t promise that every real-life example has not been ever-so-slightly embellished for dramatic effect…