Tell the Truth, so You Don’t Have to Lie Over and Over Again | January Contractor Tip of the Month
One of the best lessons I ever learned from my dad was about honesty.
Growing up on a farm with nine children, part of our survival was raising livestock. We milked cows each morning, collected eggs, and butchered our own beef, pork and chickens to keep the family fed.
One day after we were finished butchering a cow, Dad told me he left his favorite butchering knife at the barn and sent me to go get it. When I got to the barn and found his knife, I decided to have a little fun by throwing it end over end to stick the sharp end into the wood on the side of the barn. I made a good throw, but the butt end of the knife hit first, and the handle broke.
I was only about 10 years old and was scared to death of what to do next. I thought of several possible ways to explain to Dad what happened:
- I deliberately threw your favorite butchering knife and broke it (the truth).
- I accidentally dropped the knife and broke it.
- The knife was already broken when I found it.
- I accidentally dropped the knife on the way back to the house and lost it.
I hid the knife under a broken fence post in the pasture field where no one would ever find it. Then went back to the house and told Dad I lost it.
I could tell he was skeptical when he told me, “Son, you better tell the truth, for if you don’t, you will have to lie again before this is all over with.” I stuck to my guns that I had lost the knife instead of fessing up to breaking it. So, Dad sent me to go look for it and told me not to come back until I found it. I spent hours pretending to look for something I knew was never lost. I was miserable.
Lesson learned: Always tell the truth the first time. If you don’t, you will have to lie again later because it isn’t likely you will remember your false story.
When I came back and told Dad that I couldn’t find the knife, he sent me back out to look for it again after another quick sermon on always telling the truth. He often gave the same lesson: “Son, if you lie, you cheat. If you cheat, you steal. If you steal, you are no good to society. Don’t start down that road, or you will lose all creditability with those around you.”
Lesson learned: Once you lie, you surrender all power to the one you lied to.
Every time Dad sent me back looking for the knife, I dug myself into a deeper hole of deception trying to explain how I could have lost his knife between the house and barn. I was in so deep toward the end that I would have had to tell him I didn’t just lie once; I did it again, and again, and again. That’s something I decided not to do.
Lesson learned: All Dad wanted was the truth upfront. He could have lived with everything else, including a broken knife.
This went on for a few days, with me wishing I had just told the truth upfront, taken my medicine and moved on with our lives. What hurt the most is Dad knew I lied all along and let it go hoping I would come clean, so I could understand the importance of telling the truth. I never did, and it has haunted me ever since.
Lesson learned: Tell the truth, and the pain will be over much quicker.
For a couple of years following the incident, I noticed that when I was telling Dad something, he would lose interest quickly. I knew it was because he never knew whether I was telling the truth.
Lesson learned: If someone is not sure you are telling the truth, they have no interest in what you are trying to tell them.
Our relationship suffered for years following this incident, as I had no power with Dad when telling him something.
Lesson learned: Relationships are damaged for long periods until trust can be restored.
I don’t believe I ever intentionally lied to Dad again, as I paid so dearly for my first great lie. Thank you, Dad, for the tremendous lesson.
In the book, “Hard Times Create Strong Men,” Stefan Aarnio explained that when you lie to someone, you make that person master over yourself. People think that by lying they gain victory over their victim. It is just the opposite. A lie is an act of self advocation, and the liar surrenders their reality to the person they lie to, making that person their master.
Aarnio also explained that a leader who is not honest with his people threatens the survival of the tribe. For at that point, the follower must fake himself from reality as his view is required to be faked. The leader is, therefore, a slave to his people until he can convince them that he will be totally honest in the future.
White lies are the worst of them all. Most people think they are okay, but they will eat you at the core until your friendship and/or leadership is worthless.
I have tried my best to pass Dad’s teachings on to my three girls by telling them there is no way they can get in trouble as long as they always tell the truth. It has helped grow my relationship with them.
We have set core values for all our companies, and the top one is honesty. Our top priority is not to hire or do business with people we can’t trust. By analyzing the person’s level of trust upfront, and walking quickly if he is dishonest, it saves us a ton of time making decisions on direction at the companies.
I may even learn this about someone on the golf course. If we are playing golf, and you intentionally shave strokes off your score, it isn’t likely we will be working together or doing any business deals together. Here’s why: You have already shown your cards. So, why would I even give you the opportunity to break my knife and lie about it?