“Is there anyone in your life to whom you have not lied?”
What? I was clearly startled by the unexpected question. A good friend, quite some years younger than I, queried me as we were finishing our breakfast together. My gut response in the moment was to respond “No”. And that’s what I hesitantly said, after a few awkward moments of introspection. I strongly suspect that I have probably, at one point or another, told something other than or less than the truth to most everyone with whom I am in relationship. Am I that much of a liar? In retrospect I realize that I failed to say to him, “I don’t believe I have ever lied to you.” Maybe I haven’t known him long enough? Honestly, I was disturbed by his question, and my inability to answer with a confident, intelligent response. I wonder why?
I told my first lie in kindergarten, at least the first that I can remember. And I got caught! I told Mrs. Markham, my kindergarten teacher, that I had a new baby sister at home. I have no recollection whatsoever why I chose to fabricate such an untruth. I realized I was in trouble when Mom asked me one day upon getting home from school why she had received a congratulations card from Mrs. Markham upon the birth of a daughter. I dreaded going back to school the next day! I had to tell Mrs. Markham that I did not have a new baby sister, nor was there a baby expected anytime soon. At least not in our family. I had lied.
Now what? I am tempted all these many years later to try to purge myself of any and every falsehood, as if to substantiate the merits of believing that one must always and forever tell the truth. This is difficult! I don’t want to confront the reality of my own justifying and reconciling of “truth”. It seems virtually impossible for me to access and recount the lies I’ve told in a lifetime. My defenses are sure I guess. I’m somehow resistant to such an examination of conscience, feeling as though such self-indicting reflection was far too prominent earlier in my life.
Are you feeling depressed? No! Yes!
Did you eat that last cookie in the cookie jar? No! (I don’t think so…) Yes!
Will you meet me for dinner tonight? No (I have another obligation). Yes, I could.
Do you have anything to declare in those bags? No! Yes! (as I smuggled electronics through the Berlin wall many years ago…)
Have you ever betrayed those you love ? No! Yes!
Will you always tell me the truth? Yes! No!
“Audacious lying” is how the news anchor on NPR today described the latest defense of a prominent advisor to our President. “Fake news” has become part of our public vernacular. The ability to discern what is really happening in our world at any given moment is more compromised than ever, despite (or maybe because of ) proliferating social media. A posting to Facebook, as immediate and compelling as it may be, is not the “truth” any more than my most artful attempts to disguise what I am really feeling or wanting or doing. The climate for telling the truth is changing. Maybe it is necessarily a moving target?
Or maybe we just need more fact-checkers?
Truth for me is dynamic, relational, alive. That does not mean it is O.K. to deceive or dupe another.
A trusted counselor once said to me:
“It is somewhat presumptuous for you to think you need to share this with anyone else just now, as you don’t really understand yourself what is happening.”
Just a convenient rationalization? Or a timely reminder that human as I am, I will always wonder whether I am true. I strive to be true to myself. Not an easy task, given the many selves I know.