Everyone has a conception of what a lie is. It is being deceitful to someone when they ask you a question or when you are offering something which you state as being factual. I think most people are pretty honest in their lives. But there is also a part of us, a part I think which comes from upbringing, environment, and other factors which is so insidious that after a while it blurs the truth so badly that we cannot tell what is true or that we are lying. Still another sort of lie is one I think few people ever even consider, denial.
The first sort of lie comes to us when we are children and uncomfortable subjects arise which are parents cannot find the courage to discuss. Possibly chief among such lies is the discussion of sex. As parents we do not know how to speak to our children about it, or we are not sure what we should say or how much we should say. The other thing that runs in most families is the lack of discussion around things like alcoholism, drug abuse, mental health, and fear.
When I was young we had an alcoholic uncle living with us. He had been abusive to my mother when she was younger and was abusive to my brother and I when he was living with us. But he was never referred to as a drunk or an alcoholic but as some one who drank too much. Then, some time after he died, my mother suffered a mental break down. My brother, sister, and I were shipped off to relatives to live for a number of weeks until she was recovered. I was an adult, maybe in my 40s, before I found out what had happened to her. And then when I asked my mother about sex she pushed some foolish book off on me which told me nothing. She was too afraid to speak to any of us about this subject. That was quite common for others in my generation but I fear it still happens far too often. These are examples, mostly, of denial and fear. In defense of my mother there were extremely good reasons for her actions, or lack of them.
For the first four or five years of a child’s life, almost everything they learn comes from their parents, either from direct instruction or by parental example. From then on children learn from their peers but always use their parent’s example as the sounding board of what is right and wrong, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. But any gaps in a child’s training, direction from his parents, he will fill in the gap with whatever seems right. If parents actively avoid difficult discussions the child will grow up to do the same. The lie in the case is the parent knows the truth but does not relate to the child, frequently justifying that action by saying the child is too young or does not need to know whatever. Most of the time that just is not true.
I believe that as adults it is rare the day goes by that we are not confronted with an uncomfortable truth. Most of the time those truths are relatively minor though they may be briefly psychologically painful. The common human reaction is avoidance, and that is always wrong. And too often that avoidance employs denial. We think that if we deny that slightly uncomfortable truth, and then forget about it, it will be behind us never to be seen or heard from again. I think the occasions when that actually happens is rare, if at all. I believe that these minor uncomfortable truths come at us over and over again, slightly different, but basically the same. The problem with denial of those small truths is that in either avoiding them, or denying them, we are teaching ourselves how to act or react in those situations. It becomes second-nature. We become so numb to our active denial of the truth that we come to believe the lie to be true. From there we rationalize lying when we encounter even more uncomfortable truths we would rather not face. Our denial becomes such an active and large part of our lives that we employ it without thinking.
For me, the most difficult truth to tell is one which puts me in an unflattering light. But in considering such things, I have come to the conclusion that unlike the lie, telling that uncomfortable truth does not require that I defend the position whereas a lie always demands a defense. And some of the most difficult positions to be in, and not defend, is when I know I own a portion of something I have done wrong but not the entire situation. I want to say that this other person was complicit and so I don’t deserve all the blame. The thing is, that does not matter. If I own any part of a wrong, regardless of how small, I need to just own it and be done with it. Trying to shift blame serves no good purpose.
My tack these days is to be absolutely honest about even the most minor of details. For example, when someone asks me how I am doing, and I am not feeling at that well, my response will be along the lines of “I’ve been better.” But I do not say “fine” when it simply is not true. That is the most common thing people ask me which requires an honest answer and by being truthful there it helps me practice with the bigger and more important questions of truth. Every now and then I will discover that something I have said is not quite fully truthful and upon such discovery I correct myself. The truth is, my feelings have to take a back seat to my telling the truth.