I was driving home the other day and happened upon a wonderful NPR Radio Lab called, People Who Lie. The timing of this was beyond perfect. The day before, I’d had a conversation with my son, Tom, and my daughter-in-law, Lindsay, about just this topic. Several months ago, I made a commitment to myself to stop lying. The kind of lying that I did, I classified as white lies…ones that were told to spare someone’s feelings or to ease myself out of an awkward situation. They weren’t the deceptive lies that led to personal gain or the intentional harm of others, they were more innocent, sort of social lubricant types of lies…or were they? Were they really harmless? I began to see that they were not. I pretty much always know when someone is doing this to me, and it doesn’t feel “innocent” or harmless. It is sad, frustrating, and discouraging at best, infuriating and relationship ending, at worst.
The discussion with Tom and Lindsay happened because I was telling them that I needed to, at the last minute, cancel a dog grooming appointment. I was thinking that Petco would probably charge me for the late cancellation and so it crossed my mind to tell them that Jackson (the dog) had diarrhea. In a split second I imagined that they would then make the choice not to take him, and thus I wouldn’t be charged. All of this flashed through my thoughts in a matter of seconds as I dialed Petco and told them that I couldn’t make it (no excuse or reason) and wondered if I could reschedule. It wasn’t a problem and I wasn’t charged, but if I had been, I would have paid. Better to pay in dollars than pay with my self-respect and self-trust…and maybe their trust too? We all know, at some level, whether consciously or not, when we are being lied to.
So, back to my conversation with Tom and Lindsay. As I recalled this incident and also told them about my commitment to stop all lying, Lindsay, in essence, said, “All deception (white lies included) puts a barrier between people, whether this is the intention or not”. Then she went on to say to me, “I always knew when you were doing it, I could just tell”. Ouch! She never said that before, but of course I never really admitted before that I made up excuses that weren’t entirely true: told white lies (or why not just call them what they were: lies) to get out of saying no to something without being “blamed” or seen as selfish.
An underlying belief that many of us have is if we don’t do what someone would like us to do, then we are being selfish, self-centered, or inconsiderate…thus the white lies, which say, “I’d really love to do what you want me to, but I can’t because (fill in the blank with the sad/difficult/challenging story or the promise of an earlier commitment or sudden illness). So we temporarily get out of an emotionally difficult situation but never quite feel clean…never feel the strength and courage that we could feel by simply telling the truth and trusting in the process of Universal Good and Harmony to open us up to who we really are: courageous, loving, honest, strong, people who respect ourselves and others.
I have to say that since I made this “total honesty” commitment, I’ve been challenged a few times to tell tiny white lies, just this once…and I have done it. But every time I did, and there have only been a few times, I didn’t feel good, and that made me recommit to the new path.
As I was walking yesterday morning, the words, “You must let go of the old to allow the new to unfold” came into my head. I’ve been going through a lot of change (divorce will do that) and yet I feel as though I have finally come home to myself, and being totally honest has been a part of this unfolding. I am no longer struggling or asking why. I am just letting life move me and it is wondrous. As I replayed the words, “You must let go of the old to allow the new to unfold” in my mind, I thought, “I can do this. I want to do this. I can walk in these new steps. I can let go of the old: beliefs, thought patterns, people, fears, reactions, and “coping mechanisms” that no longer serve me or others. I am ready and it is time.”
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
-Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?
Juan Ramon Jimenez