The first way someone finds that a lie grows is when they rationalize it. They trade their integrity away in order to escape pain or consequences. After this, the lie continues to grow when…
2) They get away with it.
After someone lies there is that season of time where they don’t know if they’ll get caught or not. They even calculate when the “high risk” season is for being caught. It could be minutes, days, or months. Then there’s a low risk season, and finally the point where they are certain they got away with it. Of course, it’s not in the conscious mind all along. Remember they already rationalized the lie—so they aren’t really feeling as guilty as they should, or will later.
By the way, that’s a key problem with a growing lie. You don’t regret it as deeply shortly afterwards as you will later. The guilt of a lie has a delayed reaction. A lie is like cancer—the affects of a malignant tumor can come long after discovery. You can know it’s there (whether it’s a tumor or a lie) and not have it affect you in any way. But later on it grows and grows and destroys everything in it’s path.
But at stage two here none of that is in the mind of the person who rationalized their lie—because they have gotten away with it. In fact, there is a little bit of an adrenaline rush here that they have manipulated the situation to their advantage. They begin to reap the “rewards of the lie.” Yes, there are short term rewards with major affects later—just like ignoring a malignant tumor and hoping it will go away. But, for now, the one who lied is reaping the benefits and begins to wonder if perhaps this will all work out after all. (Sorry to give away the ending, but it doesn’t.)
So, how do you counter this way that a lie grows? Well, that is very difficult—because in fact they are getting away with it. Here’s two ideas:
1) When you discover someone else’s lie don’t let them off the hook. Don’t form a witch hunt on someone, but once you already have definitive proof of a lie you must hold them accountable. It means that the punishment for the lie must be considerably greater than the difficulty they were trying to avoid with their original rationalization. This means, if possible, you must discover what that motivation was. One of my children once cheated on a test, and then lied to a teacher and then my wife and I about it later. The punishment was severe for that lie—and involved writing letters of confession and a process of repentance. The child shed many more tears over the process of punishment than they would have over a flunked quiz. We have to do this with adults too—because it curbs the rationalization tendency.
2) When you yourself have gotten away with a lie—when you feel that small simple rush of energy that comes from telling a half-truth or a white lie, when you inflate your ego through a bloated story of your accomplishments, when you add that extra line on the resume or brag unduly about something you did back in the day—these are the moments to pull back the shroud around your rationalization. I have developed a practice in these situations where when I feel that small sense of “getting away with something” it now alerts me that in fact I am in sin. Usually these things are quite minor at this stage—believe it or not. All the above lies I mention are not offenses to be terminated over, and many are quick to forgive them (perhaps too quick). In these cases I now always go back and say: you know, I think I over stated that, I’m sorry. Or even “I think I might have misled you when I said _______. The truth is, I’m _________.” Sometimes I have to just come out and say, “I have a confession to make: what I said was not the whole truth. Here it is: _______.” I find that I have become more practiced at that sensation of lying in myself by doing this. And I realize that stopping a lie from growing at stage two is pretty easy. In fact, the consequences of apologizing here are fairly minimal. Yes, it’s more pain than not having lied in the first place… but it’s not nearly the pain that is coming later in this list as the lie grows.
So, how about you? How do you ensure you “don’t get away with it” when it comes to lies?