Until the lie was whispered.
She had faith-
Until the lie was confirmed.
Until the lie was repeated.
Until the lie was denied.
Then she left
When the lie no longer mattered;
She lies to herself.
We tell ourselves stories: stories which include part reality, part perception, and lies- tiny lies, huge lies, self-serving lies. Sometimes we even lie to ourselves about why we tell those lies. So can it be any surprise we lie to others? Why are we so dishonest?
I’ve thought about this a lot and have come to believe the answers reside in our egos, our images of ourselves. We all wish to believe we are good people, and we each have an internal definition of what that means to us. I believe our stories to ourselves and others reflect our definition, and if it conflicts with an unpalatable reality, we vary the stories we tell. We align our stories to match our self-perceptions.
I suspect many would argue against what I’ve said. But I suggest it is because we even lie to ourselves about what constitutes a lie. Just for the sake of argument, let’s accept the approach used by the judicial system in the United States regarding truth-telling. When one goes to court, s/he swears to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Fine for a few hours in court, you think; but not so in the real world! Nevertheless, accept the definition as an ideal at least, just for consideration. If we can truly imagine this ideal, it will become evident to us just how much we lie. Very sobering.
What are the consequences of all our dishonesty? On the plus side, of course, our self-image is preserved. On the negative side, this creates a “fool’s paradise.” While we’re patting ourselves on the back for being such a “good person,” we always have the little tingle inside which says, “well, not exactly.” Unless we become so oblivious as to become firmly entrenched in our perceptions- or misperceptions- we know our stories are not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Which begins to erode our self-image.
So far I’ve concentrated on the internal stories we tell. Add another human being and the effects of our stories increase exponentially. What we tell ourselves cannot help but be reflected in the ways we relate to others, how we act and the stories we tell them. When our stories contain some dishonesty, none of the effects are positive, at least not in the long run. Of course positive short term effects seem to outweigh the negatives for many of us. At least for a while, our stories are believed and our reputation and self image are preserved. When disbelief creeps in, our worlds can crumble. As we are forced by another to finally admit a truth we tried to evade, the relationship we have changes forever. Unfortunately, many of us respond by blaming the other person for the distrust created. We allow ourselves to be seduced into believing the delusion that our lies were warranted, even necessary under certain circumstances. Preservation of self-image comes out on top.
There is a solution to dealing with our dishonesty, and it’s NOT to be an open book to everyone we meet! But we can be an open book to ourselves. We can decide to live consciously. First, we need to see ourselves as we are: people who don’t always think things through and don’t always choose our words and actions wisely. The “Serenity Prayer” written by Rheinhold Nieburh is a good place to start:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
By incorporating the prayer in our definition of who we are, we can begin to accept our occasional lapses while also appreciating the holiness of our humanity- which doesn’t let us off the hook regarding honesty (note the second line of the prayer!) But it does allow us to be realistic about what we might expect from ourselves.
Second, living consciously demands we pay attention: we pay attention to what we think, why we think as we do, and how and why we act as we do. We would do best to try and understand ourselves and our motives, and tell ourselves the truth in all matters. It can be challenging at first to recognize when we are lying to ourselves, yet it’s definitely worth the effort. Whether you’re nine or ninety, you will be sure to discover things about yourself you didn’t know before.
Third, as we learn more about who we are and become more comfortable being honest with ourselves, our empathy for others will be enhanced. We will have created an internal platform upon which we can build our approach toward honesty in all our interpersonal dealings. We will recognize that truthfulness need not be hurtful or unkind and can be told to another with compassion. “Brutal honesty” is more about being brutal than being honest, reflecting anger and frustration. As we become more comfortable with our truth, we will become more adept and caring in the ways we relate it.
Last, we can consciously define our relationship to all those we encounter and decide how much of ourselves we wish to reveal in each case. Most of us do so in some way or another already. But we can include honesty in all our relationships by simply acknowledging to another (when necessary) that certain aspects of our lives are not open for discussion in order to avoid lying as a means of maintaining our privacy. In business and acquaintance relationships, this is usually accepted by most parties. With families and friends, issues of privacy can be negotiated.
We tell ourselves stories; those stories should be as honest as humanly possible. By deciding to live consciously, we can learn the value of honesty. Over time, I believe we will realize how incorporating our new understanding will positively affect our sense of self-worth and all our relationships. We will have taken one more step toward serenity, peace of mind . . . and ultimately, living our very best life possible.