I think we all know this. When we are less than honest we are more than likely to be haunted by it. But there is so much discussion today about lying, so many lies fill the headlines, we might stop looking at how our own lies affect us.
When we tell a lie, we know the truth. If we say something we think is true and it’s not, we’re just wrong or misinformed, not lying. When we lie, we split ourselves in two—the truth we did not speak and the lie we did. One we let out in public, one we keep hidden in a back room.
Sometimes, we feel there is a good reason for lying. We think it might serve the greater good or save someone from being hurt. We may feel the person we’re talking with is not ready for the truth.
Sometimes, we’re the one not ready for the truth. We lie because it’s convenient or easier for us to do so. It gets us something we want or it protects our image of ourselves.
But if we think a lie serves our self-image, then our view of ourselves becomes haunted. The lie shadows our experiences, dimming or distorting the light by which we see. Instead of meeting a moment clearheaded or straight on, a ghost from our past steps between us and shades the sun. Instead of feeling buoyant and joyful, we feel weighed down and worried. Who knows what might emerge from that darkness?
I generally think of myself as an honest person. My past is not usually a burden, except I sometimes miss people from it. But because I value the truth, the littlest divergence from it, or any exaggeration on my part or manipulation of another person, can result in my feeling weak or hurt. There is a built-in brake called a conscience.
I shudder when I imagine what it would be like to lie frequently or all the time or to lack a conscience. I guess a narcissist, psychopath or anyone who only cares for him or her self would become desensitized to their own lies. But think about what that means.
The ghosts would still be there. The light would become awfully dim.
If our inner vision becomes too dim or narrowed, our connection to the truth or to anyone or anything also becomes narrowed. For anything to get through to us, it must reach us through a long tunnel and must be monstrous in power. The little things, the gentle things that often make us happy, that make our day beautiful or satisfying, would not be perceived.
Instead, we would feel perpetually unsatisfied; we’d feel we were perpetually missing something.
Maybe the better metaphor is an addict who gets a thrill from the lie. A psychopath or narcissist might feel they know something the truth doesn’t. Or they might think whatever gives them a sense of power over others, even when based on a lie, is better than truth.
The truth is weak, they think; the lie is mighty. But as with other drugs, after a while they need a larger dose of the lie to get the same level of satisfaction. The cost of their high gets bigger and bigger.
So, what can most of us do when we lie, distort or exaggerate? We can admit it to ourselves, even if we don’t to others. A little bit of self-honesty can go a long way.
We can acknowledge that we, or that anyone, can make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of the learning process, part of being human. And only by making such an acknowledgment can we allow ourselves to notice what is truly there and shed light on the urge or feeling that motivated the lie.
We can notice the “little things” and thus perceive the “bigger things” in a larger context.
We can take a moment to close our eyes partly or fully and turn our attention within. We can feel what we feel—feel the movement of air over our face. We can feel how tense or relaxed are our shoulders or stomach.
If a thought arises, we can notice how it comes so we can notice how it goes. We can learn how to mindfully notice what arises within us so when the idea or urge to lie arises in the future, we can track it back to its source. We identify it and let it go before acting on it.
In this way, the almost spoken lie can teach us how to better discern the truth. We can use it to understand, learn from, and better ourselves. We can learn to treat others with more insight and compassion and be better able to oppose those who would try to manipulate us.
This is a strength and a power from which each of us benefits.
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