Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Falsehood Is Cowardice, the Truth Courage"

I’ve blogged many times about lies. I think it’s because I used to be such a self-deluded liar when I was a using alcoholic (either self-delusionally so or just plain outright intentionally so). I’ve been lucky; I haven’t lost too many people over the years because of my lying—I can think of only two, and in both cases lying wasn’t the only cause. Nevertheless, most of the nonviolent hurt we do each other in this world will find its root in selfishness that led to someone being deceitful.

Now, I’m not kidding myself here. We all lie, all the time. We lie about little stuff: yes, that blouse looks great on you, or isn’t your Jell-O cake delicious, or yes, your new haircut flatters you. We tell these fibs (we like to think) to save hurting the other person’s feelings. That’s a lie we tell ourselves. Actually, we tell these fibs to save ourselves the discomfort of being honest and thereby possibly hurting another’s feelings. I’m discovering there is a way to be honest without hurting somebody. I just add a truthful disclaimer, like: “I’m not that up on fashion and that’s not my personal taste, so I feel iffy about it.” There is nothing even remotely hurtful about that statement. If a friend asks your honest opinion, they should be prepared for an answer they may not like. This is what honesty and free and open exchange is all about. You can be honest without being cruel or critical. You can be honest while doing your best to NOT hurt the other person.

This may seem like little stuff. A blouse or a haircut is little stuff. But the fact is, if you get accustomed to telling little fibs all the time and justifying them to yourself as a good idea motivated by kindness, telling the bigger lies gets easier and easier. The next thing you know, you are just a flat-out deceitful person and you may not even be aware of how deceitful you really are. Lying is that normal to you.

Been there, done that, so don’t get me wrong. I’m not making the claim that I don’t still tell the occasional fib. Hell yes, I do. I keep catching myself. I am working on it. I am doing better. Sobriety and continual step work are slowly but surely revealing to me how deeply flawed I really used to be (when all along I didn’t think I was that bad a person), how much work I still need to do to fully align my values with my words and my actions. For whatever it’s worth, I think this is a lifelong process. I guess life is a process of self-improvement.

Here is a truth I’m coming to see: lying is almost always self-serving and there’s usually nothing kind about it. (And I’m not talking about lying to the Nazis that you have hidden a family of Jews in your cellar. That is completely different.) I say this because deceitfulness has more bad consequences than just the lie itself, that is, the one told to save yourself from the one negative consequence to begin with. Betraying another’s trust is hurtful, no matter what you think your “good” motive may be. For one, there can be no friendship between people who cannot completely trust each other. At least, there can be no genuine friendship. How can you be friends with a person who has you wondering half the time whether they’re being real with you? And how can you feel friendly towards someone you know you’re able to fool all the time? Lies hurt both people.

Second, I’m coming to understand that deceitfulness is crazy-making. Unless I have a friend who fishes for compliments all the time, my friend with the ugly blouse is asking my opinion because she’s unsure. A part of her is saying to herself, “I’m not so sure about this blouse. I think I may look foolish in it.” She is asking me for a reality check. But if I lie to save her feelings, I have just accomplished the exact opposite. She trusts my words, keeps the blouse on, goes out and later finds out—maybe in some awful, embarrassing, or humiliating way—that she looks like a damned fool. Now not only does she feel like an idiot, she is left questioning her own judgment. She feels as if she should’ve known, should’ve gone with her instincts. She wonders if she’s nuts. She asks me about the blouse again, and I either admit to the truth this time and she loses a little trust in me, or I cling to my original lie and insist that blouse is awesome and everyone else is crazy—in which case, now she’s wondering if I’m not the crazy one. Either way I lose again, and she loses again.

Now try rewriting the blouse story, only substitute a bigger lie, such as an affair or a money issue or damage to someone’s property or person, and you can begin to see how destructive lies truly are.

It’s much, much better to tell a hard truth to begin with than it is to outright fuck with somebody else’s head: and that is what lying amounts to.

When it comes to repairing the damage caused by deceitfulness, there is really only one way to do it, and this one I’m learning the hard way as well. It is to own what I did to the person I did it to. By this I don’t mean simply saying I’m sorry. It’s not enough to say, “I didn’t do it out of malice and I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I used to kid myself and think that should be enough, but it doesn’t help. All it means is that I haven’t yet learned from my own mistake. Indeed, the above is only a way to further piss off or injure the person I’ve already hurt. I’m asking forgiveness, but there is zero evidence I wouldn’t turn around and do the same thing again. Why on earth would they trust me?

You have to prove that you have learned from your mistake. Acknowledge your lie(s); why you lied (you have to do some soul searching for the truth here and be willing to tell the truth to yourself about some personal failures—be they selfishness, immaturity, or other flaws in your character); show that you understand (perhaps by enumerating to them the harms, such as the betrayal and the crazy-making) the damage your lie did to them; and then plainly state: “I will not do this again and from now on I will go out of my way to NEVER lie to you and to NOT hurt you.” And don’t just say it—mean it. Of course, only time and your actions will truly show whether you really meant it… or if you were just lying again.

Still afraid to tell the truth? Lately I'm trying to keep this is mind: nobody ever got mad or hurt over something they perceive you had no control over. If you genuinely had no choice—if it was one of those situations in which you had to make a snap decision and no matter what you did, someone was going to get hurt and you chose to do the least hurtful thing for the greatest number of people involved—nobody is going to get mad about that. Nope, people only get mad or hurt when they perceive that you deliberately chose to act badly. Very few people are going to get mad at you for telling them the truth (unless it’s after the fact, and the truth that you’re owning up to was that you told a lie, in which case you’re doing the right thing by owning up to it, but you need to expect to face the consequences of that lie.)

Someone once said, “Falsehood is cowardice, the truth courage.”

The deceitfulness I used to practice to save my ass actually did nothing but repeatedly bite me in the ass. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to finally get it.


The House Huntress said...

Beautifully said. I am grateful that you would lie to the Nazis about me hiding in your basement! People ask me all the time as a realtor what I think, it is hard to find the words between what I should and would say. Truly in my profession, my opinion means nothing. Would I live in this neighborhood or not? Do I think the schools are good? It is actually better for me to say, it is such a subjective question, it is hard for me to answer. Thanks for the reminder!

Joyce said...

Amy, I would hide you and lie about it in a minute!

I think yours is a good answer. "I don't know" is perfectly legit when you really don't know. Best to just lay out the facts and let them draw their own conclusions. I know I'm personally more likely to appreciate that than be subjected to a "hard sell."