I was always told that the only thing you have in life is your word. When you commit to something, you commit. When you say something, you mean it. And while it takes time to gather trust from those around you, it only takes a moment to lose any hope of being trusted ever again. Truthfulness is a universal virtue, extending through every facet of our society. When like to know that when we hear something, we can believe it with all our hearts. Even in politics, we value the presentation of a truthful candidate, whether or not it’s really true.
Interestingly enough, studies about trustworthiness and lying weren’t really conducted until the mid 1980’s. This isn’t incredibly surprising, the 80’s were a time marked by accusations of deception: Marion Barry, Dan Rostenkowski, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton. There was Susan Smith, a mother who killed her own children and pointed her finger at a mysterious black male nowhere to be found. There was Joe Klein, a columnist for Newsweek, who denied his connection to the anonymously published novel Primary Colors. And there was even a monk who falsely accused Cardinal Bernardin of molestation. Yes, the times were filled with liars, and scientists wanted to know more.
A 1996 study conducted by Bella De Paulo required 147 people to keep a diary recording the lies they told each day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most people lied at least once or twice a day about little things: completing chores or tasks, liking someone’s shirt. In fact, it was found that both men and women lie in about 1/5th of all social interactions lasting more than 10 minutes. This means that over the course of one week, people are lying to approximately 30 percent of all those they communicate with one-on-one. College students saw an interesting trend as well, lying in 1/2 of all communications with parents. De Paulo and her team didn’t include in their statistics “pleasantry lies”, like “I’m fine” or “It’s okay”, which seems to make the data all the more concerning.
And it seems like everyone lies: men, women, children, adults, students, teachers, doctors, spouses, bachelors. In fact, it seems like anyone, given a strong enough incentive, will compromise their truthfulness, no matter how pure their intentions are. Interestingly enough, those who score the highest on psychological evaluations of responsibility are the most likely to deceive those around them. It seems that most lies stem from a desire to keep the peace, not disrupt it. Lies to avoid conflict, lies to avoid awkwardness, even lies to form stronger bonds are all the most common forms of deception.
So if lying is such an integral part of our society, why is Satya important?
Satya is the practice of truthfulness, but not of the conventional interpretation. This ethical practice is more closely related to living a life that is authentic to the truest form of yourself. Yoga, as a practice, can be used to strip away “veils of ignorance”, and reveal who it is that lies within. It’s the practice of removing labels (mother, doctor, liberal, conservative), and exploring the deeper foundations of your truth. It’s an exercise in self-study that encourages the practitioner to step outside of conventional labeling or wisdom and pursue a life that will bring them the greatest happiness to their personal definition.
Maybe the easiest way to understand it is through an economic comparison. Have you ever found yourself desiring things just because of their association in society? Maybe felt pressure to buy certain things, wear certain clothes, or go to a certain university because it’s associated with wealth or influence? Many, if not all of us, have. But more often than not it’s not because we particularly like those objects, or because they resonate with us on a deeper level. It’s because we like the message it sends to the world around us, regardless of if it’s a true and honest reflection of who we are.
Studies have shown that experiences are far more rewarding than objects, especially as rewards or gifts. A family vacation instead of Christmas presents, or a walk with a friend instead of a birthday card are found to be much more fulfilling and enjoyable almost indiscriminately of race, age, gender, or social class. I happen to believe that there is a strong parallel between this trend and the practice of Satya: material objects are almost always manifestations of a social inflection, expectation, or association. Experiences are much more likely to accommodate true interests and passions. We’re drawn to do things more authentic to our inner selves than we are to have things authentic to our inner selves.
Looking at the statistics of lying, it’s not hard to understand why most people are, at the root of their being, unhappy. We don’t lie most often for personal gain, we lie for the benefit of others. We lie to make others happy, we lie to make others like us, and we lie to hide what’s really going on. Maybe the easiest place to see this is in our employment: how many people will tell you they have their dream job? How many people will tell you they’re living the life they’ve always wanted to live? And how many of those people chose a certain path because of the social connotations they carried? There’s a direct link between the amount we lie, even to ourselves, and the amount of unhappiness we carry.
And that’s the beauty of Satya: It’s truthfulness it yourself. You already know that lying to others is bad (but we all do it anyway), but do you consider yourself to be a liar to your own self? Satya asks us to reevaluate the way we communicate, understand, and treat ourselves in every aspect of our lives. It asks us to realign our actions with our values and intentions in life, because more often than not, we’ve lost sight of that pursuit in the hustle that life can so easily become.
One of the easiest ways to get reconnected with your inner truth is an exercise we did at a Just Be community connection- intention and goal setting. We were asked to write down three memories of when we were the happiest, and three memories of when we were the saddest, along with why. Then, we circled the words that jumped out to us from the happiest times: appreciated, valued, dedicated, useful, connected. From there, we were able to see what it is that brings us the most joy in life, and the kinds of goals we can set for our future. It is this practice of finding our core values and centering our actions around them that is the only way we can truly be authentic and honest with ourselves.
We all know not to lie to others, but it’s time we draw our attention back inwards. What can you do to bring more honesty into your life? What is it that you’re avoiding? What are you holding yourself back from pursuing?
These questions are the root of Satya.