I consider myself something of an expert on lying, in that I have spent a good deal of my life being either the perpetrator or the recipient thereof. I’m familiar with, from both perspectives: the out-and-out black-is-white-up-is-down lie, the lie of omission, the half-true lie, the honest-mistake lie, the embroidery-for-comic-effect lie, the not-completely-informed-of-all-the-relevant-facts lie, the for-your-own-good lie, the lie-to-yourself lie, the this-information-is-given-on-a-need-to-know-basis lie, the let’s-just-put-a-happy-face-on-this-situation lie, the lie where your mouth says one thing and your actions say another, the lie where your mouth says one thing and your body says another, and the lie where your mouth says one thing and your ironic facial expression says another.
I’ve lied on purpose and by accident. I’ve lied to protect myself, to protect someone else, and to hurt someone intentionally. I’ve lied out of fear of rejection and out of embarrassment. I’ve lied to make things smoother socially and to stir up a little drama, to comfort someone who needed it and to save my own skin. There are lots of reasons, many of which have seemed quite valid at the time. I don’t know, of course, but I imagine that the people who have lied to me have done and felt similarly.
Sometimes I can tell I’m lying and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I wonder if there’s any value in shaping or filtering experience to suit any given situation. I don’t tell you every single thing about myself in this journal, for example. Is that lying? I often smooth out the rough edges of the things I write about here, but I feel like I’m telling the truth just about as near as I can get without damaging my personal life. Is that lying? Is not sharing every opinion you have with everyone lying? Is there a difference between lying and spinning, or filtering, or embroidering? Does trying to tell a story, even if it’s a story that happened to you, make you a liar?
Lying was pretty much necessary in my family. I wasn’t really taught that it’s wrong; I was taught that it’s sort of a shame that it had to happen, but that that’s just the way it goes. There was also an undercurrent idea that only uninteresting and unimportant people have to tell the truth, that big important people are exempt from those petty sorts of expectations about honesty. The real value, the thing you had to be scrupulous about, was understanding the person to whom you are telling a lie well enough to make it believable. One way to do this is to believe the lie yourself; this is a very effective method because all the little triggers we have as humans that indicate whether a person is trustworthy or not aren’t always activated by that sort of sincerity. I also learned that a good way to get out of being caught in a lie is to blame the person that’s caught you for doubting you or for not trusting you enough. It’s especially useful if you can convince that person that his or her lack of love for and trust in you is forcing you to lie, either outright or more subtly.
So, given that early experience, it’s only recently that I’ve come to understand the havoc certain types of dishonesty can wreak. Little things, over the last couple of years and months and weeks, have made me think that lying takes up so much energy, that it is so destructive…not only to the person being lied to, but to the liar as well. People lie to try to abdicate responsibility for their actions, maybe…but it kind of doesn’t work. Or it doesn’t work forever. Even if you never get caught in your lie, in the world outside your head, you still have to live in the world inside. I don’t know what’s worse, sometimes, the acknowledgment or the denial of the ways you’ve manipulated the truth. Shame about your actions (or inactions) is always hard but I think maybe it’s worse not to know or understand or accept that you’ve lied, because how can you change, otherwise? How can you attempt to tell as much of the truth as you can, to become more fully human by participating in the larger truth?
However it’s happened, I’ve been thinking about all this a lot lately. I never want to lie again. I keep thinking about honesty and transparency, about being open with people. It’s sort of scary. I don’t know how possible it is for me; the short-term benefits of lying are sometimes very compelling. Sometimes they feel vital. I certainly don’t want to be lied to or about anymore, though, so I guess I have to give it up. That’s the only way, right?