Mr. Norris, I’ve been stuffing the truth about something for a long time – so much so that I believe living a lie is negatively affecting my health. Any basis for that? – “Done With Deceit” in Des Moines, Iowa

Is anyone shocked anymore to discover that someone is concealing the truth? It has become a normal way of life.

Lying has become such an integral part of our culture that one can enroll in a class on deception at many of America’s academic institutions.

“Lying has been described as one of the most fundamental human activities,” described one class’ syllabus.

There is actually a science of lying, something used in helping people become lie detectors. One can find articles on the science in an array of periodicals, such as Forbes magazine, which recently featured an article titled “Ten Ways to Tell If Someone Is Lying to You.” One also can purchase online a host of how-to books on lying, such as one titled “How to Lie with Statistics.”

Lying has become so pervasive that it has become a clinical and compulsive illness that is, in some cases, even covered by medical insurance (the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry will help parents and guardians detect whether their children fall into this category).

The ubiquitous nature of lying makes me think of a line by Fletcher Reede, Jim Carrey’s lawyer character in the movie “Liar, Liar.” When cornered by his young son about his rampant and out-of-control fibbing, Fletcher retorted, “It’s not wrong to lie. Everyone lies!” (The movie made comedy of the truth that people no longer even worry about the risks of perjury in our courts of law.)

Most say, “There’s no trouble with a little white lie, right?” Some say, “Lying isn’t the problem; getting caught is.”

Truth be told, however, lying can be detrimental to you in a variety of ways.

First, hasn’t everyone’s experience proved that one way or another, what’s covered up is eventually revealed? It’s proven out almost every day in most households, schools and workplaces.

Second, recent studies have further supported that lying is actually bad for your health. Yahoo’s Shine reported that it all begins with the release of the same negative stress hormone that causes “fight or flight response.”

According to Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., author of “Set Free to Live Free: Breaking Through the 7 Lies Women Tell Themselves,” “This increase in stress hormones causes your heart rate and breathing to increase, digestion to slow down and hypersensitivity of muscle and nerve fibers.”

Chronic lying can actually lead to the same illnesses and diseases associated with chronic stress, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Third, perpetual liars create more perpetual lies, not only in familial settings but also as personal patterns in one’s life. As is the case with Lay’s potato chips, one lie is never enough!

In November, a study published in Consciousness and Cognition by Ghent University’s department of psychology in Belgium concluded, “Frequent truth telling made lying more difficult, and frequent lying made lying easier.”

Dalton-Smith summarized the study and the choices we have: “You reap what you sow. The more you lie the easier it becomes, and similarly the more honest you are the easier it is to be honest.”

In short, honesty is the best policy on many levels, including with our health. Even in organizations, truth-telling policies can yield great benefits, from leadership synergy to financial savings.

For example, in 2002, the University of Michigan Health System decided to practice an honesty and apology policy in all of its health-care dealings. As a result, CBS reported, “claims against the system … dropped from 262 in 2001 to 83 in 2007. Fewer claims have allowed the system to drop its malpractice insurance cash reserves from 73 million to 13 million.”

Whether as organizations or citizens – but especially as models for our children and grandchildren – we must return to a time when telling the truth was admired and commended.

As America’s first president, George Washington, once said, so we all should say: “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

We all know it’s sometimes difficult to tell the truth, especially if there are consequences for doing so. But the truth is that the best and healthiest way forward is to overcome personal and relational hurdles by facing our fears with the truth and building a bridge to a better tomorrow.

And there’s one more benefit of truthfulness. As Mark Twain put it, “Always tell the truth. That way, you don’t have to remember what you said.”

For a more holistic medical approach, my wife, Gena, and I recommend Sierra Integrative Medical Center in Reno, Nev. The people there are pioneers in integrative medicine. They blend the best of conventional medicine with the best alternative therapies.

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