You stifle your gag reflex as you take another bite.
Why does this happen every year?
Your mother-in-law’s not a bad cook. You love most of her dishes. But the spices in her famous chicken casserole hit your taste buds wrong.
So why does she make it every time you visit?
Your friends suggest she’s being passive-aggressive. But you know the truth: it’s your own fault.
You didn’t intend to lie. You were a young woman who wanted to please her boyfriend’s mom. So when she asked how you liked the meal, you were polite. Perhaps too polite.
You may have gushed.
If you’d known she’d become your mother-in-law—and that she’d make her chicken casserole each and every time you visit “just for you, because I know how much you love it!” — well, you would’ve been less polite.
Or would you have?
Because you still wouldn’t have wanted to hurt her feelings — the reason for your lie in the first place.
What’s the right thing to do?
After all, it’s not just enduring a meal you don’t prefer. Knowing you’re not being genuine with someone you care about always feels icky.
And now that there are kids at the table, too, it feels even worse.
You Try to Be Honest
When the natural desire to lie arises, it’s often to keep other aspects of your character intact. You don’t want to lie, but you also don’t want to be unkind.
But even if it’s a momentary untruth that won’t haunt every single meal with your in-laws until the end of time— and even if it’ll never be found out—
- Your brain always hears what you say.
- Your body always experiences a lie as tension.
- You always register it as a lack of integrity.
Integrity = Whole
When we consider integrity, the definition that comes to mind is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles”.
But the second dictionary definition is equally important: “whole and undivided.”
(Integrity shares the same root as the words integrated and integral; even the ancient Hebrew word for integrity (tom) denotes both integrity and completeness.)
It’s important that we live a complete and integrated life, that our words and our actions match, even in the small things.
In fact, psychology’s cognitive dissonance theory tells us that integrity is so important to your brain that the more you lie about a particular topic, the more you’ll have to either suffer shame or change your opinion to match the lie.
So how can you maintain your integrity on all fronts?
Here are 4 methods:
1. RE-FRAME the QUESTION
You’ve dreaded this moment since your first look at the wrinkly thing whose head is 3 sizes too big.
The sleep-deprived mama, beaming wide at the new little bundle in her arms, asks, “Isn’t he the cutest baby you’ve ever seen in your life?”
In that moment, it feels like you have two options:
- Break it to the new mom that the baby she’s been carrying for 9 months is more hideous-looking than E.T. OR
- Cross your fingers behind your back like a 3rd grader and gush, “He’s the most adorable infant who’s ever lived!”
You know the more socially acceptable response.
But before you jump to automatic agreement, pause and remember:
- Living in integrity is not the same as brutal honesty.
- And, you don’t have to answer the question you’re asked.
That’s right: You don’t have to answer the question you’re asked.
Instead, ask yourself: What was the intent behind the question?
In this instance, the mama’s underlying statement is one of awe and wonder at the miraculous creature God gave her.
So ask yourself: What can I say to participate in the mama’s joy and stay in my integrity?
Many response options exist between “Eew!” and “O.M.G!”
Give yourself time to process some of the others before you respond. You could even develop some possibilities ahead of time.
- What a spunky little guy!
- She’s so tiny.
- What an amazing little person.
2. BE STRAIGHTFORWARD
Though I was only 21 years old at the time, it remains one of the more bizarre political stories I’ve witnessed.
Why was the country so concerned about the president’s vegetable preferences?
In 1990, the media caused an uproar over then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush’s statement that he didn’t like broccoli. Although a poll at the time* showed that 62% of those surveyed also didn’t eat that particular veggie, 95% believed the president should eat all of his veggies—or at least say he did—”for the children”.
More than 30 years later, I’m still flummoxed over the hullabaloo surrounding an attempt to encourage the leader of the free world to lie about his vegetable consumption.
Aside from the fact that we generally don’t want politicians to lie, the situation was ludicrous on a whole other level:
- We’re each human.
- We each have likes and dislikes, preferences and opinions.
- And none of us is made of spun glass.
Why did some find it more important to encourage lying than truth over a matter of opinion?
Chances are, your preferences won’t be scrutinized the way a political leader’s are. Still, you’re entitled to your likes and dislikes—and you’re allowed to express them.
Ask yourself: How can I be straightforwardly honest about my opinion without adding drama?
Here’s an example:
Hostess: How do you like the broccoli?
- It’s not my favorite vegetable, but you’ve prepared it in an interesting way. OR
- I’m so excited to share a meal with you, I’ll even eat broccoli! OR
- I’m not especially fond of broccoli, but I appreciate your hard work preparing it.
3. FIND MEANING ELSEWHERE
It’s not where she wanted to be.
Sitting in the rain watching any ol’ sport was bad enough. But watching her brother play the most boring sport on the planet when she could’ve been hanging out with her friends instead? It was just too much.
Her parents could force her to attend her brother’s game, but they couldn’t make her enjoy it!
And she was bound and determined to make sure everyone knew it. After all, to pretend otherwise would be a lie. Right?
Perhaps you’ve grown out of your obstinate teenage ways. I have—well, mostly. . .
Regardless of our age or maturity level, some of the lies we tell are with our actions rather than our words.
Whether it’s watching your brother play baseball, discussing the ins & outs of your son’s favorite video game, or attending the 2-hour meeting that could have been a 5-sentence email . . . what can you do when your actions threaten to hide a lie?
You can dig deep and find a meaningful reason to participate.
It’s easy to forget that we’re complex creatures for whom many things can be true at the same time.
- You can want to stay home from the game and still show up to support wholeheartedly your brother.
- You can prefer not to discuss video games and still love on your son by engaging in the conversation.
- Those dumb meetings, though…
Well, okay— even useless meetings can present the possibility for deeper meaning.
- recognize it as a bonding experience with your co-workers
- use it as a learning opportunity to boost your own leadership skills
- consider it a stoic practice in enduring hardship
Or you could choose not to participate.
Sometimes we forget that the choice is ours.
4. IT’S OKAY TO BACKTRACK
Many lies — such as the fib about your mother-in-law’s casserole— slip out almost automatically, because we’re social beings created to value relationships above all else.
And getting out of them can seem awkward. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the lie forever.
Try the following phrases to gracefully back out of a lie:
- You know, hearing myself say that out loud, it doesn’t feel as true.
- Let me rephrase that.
- After we spoke, I realized…
The woman who’s let the lie to her mother-in-law take on a life of its own might suggest: “Now that I’ve had so many of your other dishes, I love your turkey tetrazzini and your chipotle salmon so much more than your chicken casserole. They’re my all-time favorites!”
REMEMBER TO BREATHE
Even with these scripts, you won’t tell the truth perfectly every time. But perfection isn’t required.
You’re training yourself to be more trustworthy and reminding yourself that you are trustworthy.
Most times, if you’ve been straightforward and non-inflammatory with your words, any hard feelings are not your responsibility.
You are only ever responsible for your own words and actions, not those of the listener.
And—as with the president’s broccoli situation— if your audience is offended by the (non-inflammatory) truth, that’s on them.
As you practice being honest, even in the little things, you’ll find it gets easier. For one thing, it’ll feel more comfortable to tell the truth.
And it’ll feel more uncomfortable when a lie slips out.
That’s a good thing! It’s your brain reminding you to be whole and complete, to live with integrity.
Additionally, the people you interact with will learn that you mean what you say, so they’ll trust you more.
And eventually they’ll refrain from asking questions if they don’t really want to know the truth—which means you’ll have fewer requests for socially acceptable lies!
*As reported in “The Broccoli Poll” by Jodi Noding, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 28, 1992