A while ago, on the train into work, I overheard a man sitting opposite me make a phone call.

Now, I don’t make a habit of listening to other people’s conversations, but as you probably know, it’s not always that easy not to overhear them on the train.

He was evidently speaking to a colleague whom he should have already met, so that they could meet up with a client. “I’m still stuck on the train” he said and then made some suggestions about what the colleague might say to the client.

A while later, as we approached our final destination, he called his colleague again to say he was just coming into the station and would be there in a few minutes. His final comment was “this train has been definitely slow.”

Just a typical conversation that hundreds of people have every day, due to the our infamously unreliable train services.


The train we were on arrived at it’s final destination spot on time.

Not the 1, 2 or 5 minutes late that counts as on time as far as the train companies are concerned, but absolutely, 100%, on time. In fact it had been spot on time when I joined it, before he made either of the phone calls. Presumably, therefore, it had also been on time when he had joined it.

So, to put it bluntly, the guy was lying to his colleague.

Now, I’ve done that kind of lying, and I would imagine that you may have done it too - you know the little lie that we do to avoid an awkward situation. It’s so much part of our societal behaviour that we even have a name for it  - a “white” lie.

I’ve looked up various definitions of white lie and generally they say things like “unimportant” or “harmless” and it “would cause no discord if it were uncovered” - so even the dictionaries agree it is OK to do.

But I question that notion of unimportant and harmless.

Not on some high held moral basis, but simply on the basis of can a lie ever really be harmless?

OK, it might not cause discord if uncovered, though if that’s the case, why bother lying in the first place? Isn’t it just easier to be honest? But what I’m really interested in here is the harm it can do to the liar.

What is the effect of lying on the person who lies?

From my own experience I find that if I tell a lie, even a little tiny white one, it has a draining effect on me. it makes me a bit uneasy and leaves me a little smaller than I know I can be.

Often, once a first lie is told, others have to follow to avoid the first one being revealed. In some cases that can reach the point of of living a lie (or series of lies) over an extended period, and then it starts to have a significant impact on all sorts of areas, including mental and physical well-being.

I’m not just talking about this theoretically either. Quite a few years ago now, I did exactly that - I got myself into an a growing spiral of lies and deceit that ran over many months. It was the most destructive period of my life, across my whole life. It deeply damaged my relationships, my business and my general peace of mind to name just three areas, and it took me years to recover.

Perhaps most importantly, lying undermines your trust in yourself - and that impacts your ability to produce results. If you relate to yourself as a liar, how can you believe in yourself when say you’re going to produce a particular result?

Now, if you just said "I tell white lies and it doesn’t result in me relating to myself as a liar", here's the bad news - it does. It’s just that often that impact is at the unconscious level.

Consciously, it may show up only as a slight, gnawing, almost (though not quite) undistinguished doubt that you have in your own ability and integrity. But below your conscious awareness it can be deeply damaging to you.

And what about the lies we tell ourselves?

How often do you do that?

These ones work slightly differently, because you know when you're lying to yourself. It’s not a case of "if it is uncovered", as it is uncovered right from the start  - at least to your unconscious mind.

For example if I tell myself things like: "I'm going to finish that report  tomorrow morning" and then don’t, or “I’ll arrive at 10” and them am late, in a subtle way I am chipping away at my own self trust and self esteem.

As ever with the things I write here, I’m not putting this forward as a definitive truth or a complete article. It's intended to start a conversation.

I’d like to know what you think.

So please tell me by commenting.

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One Response to Lies On the Train

  1. Keith says:

    couldn’t agree more – the little white lies, turn out to be the worst kind, eventually.

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