I’m writing another book, along with a course to support it. One of the chapters is on lying. So when the movie, (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies, scrolled across my Netflix screen one night, I jumped on it. I was not disappointed.

Lying is why people get divorced. It is why people have mental health issues. Lying puts people in jail and it ruins lives.  Yet we all do it. Here’s a taste of what the star of the movie, professor Dan Ariely discovered in more than twenty years of research. One truth in particular will definitely change how you lead people who matter to you.

While speaking to a live audience, the professor got people to readily admit they lie. Just as readily, they claimed themselves to be good people. Clearly we don’t associate minor lying with being a bad person. However, it is a slippery slope.

The movie presents a cross-section of academic experiments conducted with thousands of people juxtapositioned against tragic real-world examples.  One young mother lied about her address in order to get her two daughters into a school in her father’s district. One year later she was caught and criminally charged with altering official documents. She was convicted and spent a short time in jail. She was devastated and now says she’ll never lie again.

In one experiment, 40,000 people were given a tic-tac-toe matrix-style card filled with several numbers to the second decimal place. They were told they would be paid $1 for each time they paired up two numbers to add to ten. There were about four correct answers that could be done in the short time limit. They were then shown that no one would verify their answers, by having their self-corrected answer sheets shredded in front of them (but not really!).

A whopping 70% of people cheated!  A few extremists claimed as many as 20 correct answers.  Ariely noted that the sum of those losses paled in comparison to the aggregate losses of the masses who cheated just a little bit, but by the thousands. He connected this to tax and insurance fraud that add up to billions.

Later, he ran the same experiment but this time, he had respondents first attempt to write out the Ten Commandments. Though no one got all ten right, the effect was startling!  No one cheated in the subsequent math card test. None, compared to 70% earlier! What does that tell you? Professor Dan concludes we merely need to be reminded of our inner moral code. Every leader needs to grab that one. Setting up good moral expectations leads to good moral behaviour. Cool.

In another experiment, he rigged a vending machine to give out both the chocolate bar AND return the coins inserted. Despite having a large 1-800 number to call if the machine didn’t work, no one called for help. Instead, the average person stole 4 items while calling in friends to jump on the bandwagon. Dan concluded that people feel better about lying when “everyone” is doing it. In the real world, he connected this to cyclists who were doping at the rate of 70% or more of all competitors. Collusive lying became the cultural norm, with the biggest culprit being Lance Armstrong.

I recently raised this topic with a small church group I belong to. I was surprised to hear the admissions of lying and even the questioning of what is a lie? “Is buying a product that you know is wrongly under-priced lying?” asked one woman. She admitted going back to buy another once she saw that the cashier didn’t catch the error.

Jesus said, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” (Luke 16:10 NAB)

In my work, lying is much more than merely cheating for money. It is hiding truths from your spouse or co-worker in order to avoid conflict. It is believing lies such as “I’m not good enough,” and “I’m not lovable.” These are lies of the evil one that we absorb almost by osmosis from a young age.  Taking the hurtful behaviour of others personally is also often a lie. Most people hurt you only to protect themselves from their own hurt.

You need HUGE courage to stop lying. We lie for many reasons, which this movie articulates very well. We lie to look good in the eyes of others. We lie to fit into the crowd. We lie for financial gain. We lie to convince ourselves we are doing good. Indeed, one experiment showed that a lie detector machine consistently FAILS when the person is lying for the benefit of a good cause such as a charity. People’s emotional triggers do not kick in. Furthermore, those triggers become dull with repeated lying – such as convincing ourselves that our bad habits are okay.

The biggest reason we lie is to avoid consequences. Several people spoke openly of being caught and sent to prison for high profile lying  – lying on their resume for 28 years; betting on NBA games as an NBA referee; and playing with the accounting books for personal gain. Three men were sent to jail for up to 12 years for insider stock trading.

Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” These words have proven themselves to be incredibly powerful for me. They have rocked my boat and the boat of those I love. People who believe in lies can get very upset when you become committed to speaking your truth. George Orwell, the 1940s author of Animal Farm and 1984, said it succinctly, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

In my experience, most families have a certain level of universal deceit. The consequence is anger, distrust, estrangement and dysfunction. You alone can set them free by committing to telling the truth, when relevant, in a kind, loving and authentic way. All you need is enough faith to trust that what happens next will work out according to God’s plan and not yours. There is only one way you will get that level of faith – by doing it.