Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

How Well You Sleep Depends on How Little You Lie

A minister told his congregation, “For next week’s sermon, I would like everyone to read the 17th chapter of Mark from your Bible. This will help you fully understand my topic on an important sin.”

The following Sunday, the minister opened his sermon with, “Now, how many of you have read Mark 17 this week as I asked?” Nearly all the hands went up.

The minister smiled. “Mark has only 16 chapters. I will now proceed with my sermon on the subject of lying.”

I hope this isn’t a sermon, but I would like to discuss lying because it seems to have become more prevalent. When did it become so easy for people to lie?

I’m a big Seinfeld fan and remember the episode where Jason Alexander’s character, George Costanza, says, “Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Maybe that’s the problem. A lot of people don’t have a problem with a “white” lie or a fabrication, but it’s still a lie and has consequences. A white lie soon gets tanned from exposure. I like to say that if you lie, you better have a good memory.

People lie for a variety of reasons. Fear and avoiding punishment is a natural reaction, an excuse often offered by children. Another is escaping embarrassment and at the same time improving your image to impress or mislead others. This is where ego comes into play. People want to be seen as good, polite and successful.

People also like to protect themselves or someone else from harm. You don’t want to get a family member or co-worker in trouble, so you lie for them to keep them out of danger. Let’s face it; some people just lie for the thrill of it. And we all know someone who just seems to have a problem with the truth – it’s like they just can’t help themselves.

Sadly, we live in a time where lying isn’t treated as seriously as it should be. Businesses must be honest if they want to survive. Truth is a virtue that must be taught at a young age, long before a first job. It should never be optional.

Pamela Meyer, author of “Liespotting,” gave a TED Talk about how to spot a liar. She claims we are lied to between 10 and 200 times every day. She also says that four out of every ten things our children tell us are lies. Two out of every 10 things we tell our spouses are lies.

Research by McGill University of Montreal found that by age three, roughly 40 percent of children begin telling lies – even though they know it is wrong. Fortunately, most tots aren’t great liars. Studies conducted all over the world revealed that when pressed for more information, children will often betray their own deception with a smile or other facial expressions, or by uttering the truth. However, once these children turn four years old, 74 percent of them will engage in telling lies and become better at maintaining their falsehoods when questioned.

Researchers believe that children under four take their cues on honesty from parental examples. As they grow older, their attitude toward truth telling versus lying is influenced by the consequences attached to the information. An older child may be willing to accuse a sibling, but won’t own his or her share of the blame in a misdeed.

What can parents do? Start addressing the situation when your children are young. Share stories that have a moral with little ones so they have an example that is easy to understand and remember. Use positive reinforcements to stress the importance of honesty when they are communicating and sharing information with you – even when that information isn’t good. Finally, be a role model for honesty, because children are watching everything you do.

A businessman walking down the street noticed three young girls arguing about a puppy they’d found. “What’s going on here?” he asked.

“We found this lost puppy and we all want to take him home,” one little girl said. “So we’re having a contest,” a second girl chimed in.

“Whoever tells the biggest lie gets to keep him!” the third girl said.

“What?” the businessman asked. “Lying is a terrible thing, girls. Why, I’m over 50 and I’ve never told a single lie in my life!”

The girls looked at each other. “OK, mister,” the first girl said. “You win.”

Mackay’s Moral: Those who cook up stories usually find themselves in hot water

About the Author Harvey Mackay, Founder & CEO

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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