Mankind has come a long way but we’re still pretty brutal with each other on a fairly routine basis. And I don’t mean insults or cruelty, although those things are becoming increasingly popular unfortunately. What I mean is that we’re so judgmental of those closest to us.
Because some people some where at some time invented the word trust and the words lie and betray, and the phrase let me down, people have come to see these things as absolutes in much the way more and more people see politics. Because you’re one way doesn’t mean you can’t see or enjoy the benefits of another way. There’s times in life when one political reaction might prove better than another, just as there are times in life where the truth is not as neat a thing as our judgmental minds would like it to be.
Say your beloved Mom is undergoing chemotherapy and she’s asked you to go wig shopping after she starts to lose her hair. Even if she looks worse than you’ve ever seen her look, are you lying if she asks you how she looks and you tell her “great!” with a big fake smile? No, that’s not lying unless you’re far too literal for healthy human relations. That is clearly an act of love to anyone who’s even remotely in touch with the healthiest parts of themselves. But it doesn’t even have to be that dramatic.
If we say people don’t like lying, what is it they don’t like? It creates a more unpredictable future, so more tension. They don’t like that it also means they have to take into account an ongoing future uncertainty regarding everything the “liar” says to them. And that applies to their past dealings as well, so they wonder about any other potential fallout or false assumptions. And it gets seen as a violation of our commitment to that person. All of that has value and meaning, but it’s not the whole story. Because if we look at why people lie (and everyone does it all day long, they just don’t perceive the things as lies in many cases) , then we quickly see that in a huge number of cases the lies only exist to protecting the feelings of the person they’re talking to, someone else, or themselves.
The first two—protecting who you’re talking to, and protecting someone else—those are pretty common and they’re probably easy for you to imagine. But what is it to protect yourself? A good example comes from my younger years. I was dating a stunningly attractive girl that every guy I knew expressed envy over and I agreed. Every time I looked at her I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. But you know what? Beautiful girls often have people focus on their beauty when they’re young. And so they forget that people will love them for who and how they are—that they’re beauty is a separate issue. And so despite the fact that they’re the most beautiful people in any society, they are often commensurately insecure about being beaten out by someone even more attractive.
Over time that insecurity built because there was no action to remove it, but there was steady additions to it. Eventually it gets cumbersome then onerous and finally it’s exasperating. The only thing that was unattractive to me about my girlfriend was that she was constantly questioning my dedication to her. She never realized what an insult that was. And it also resulted in a lot of angry jealous rages which were embarrassing for me as a young man, and it was on more than a few occasions quite extreme.
What those reactions would encourage me to do is lie. Not to really conceal anything meaningful. But because it’s easier on the relationship. So when I was visiting her, would I want to tell her I was at a mall buying shoes from a girl I went to school with that I’ve bought shoes from for 10 years? No. Because that would far too likely lead to an evening-wasting argument about why did I buy them from her rather than from a store two minutes closer? So instead I would lie and say that I was playing video games in a friend’s basement. And that lie is a bad idea, because if she finds out about it she either won’t believe my reasoning and she’ll trust me even less, or she’ll be furious about my reasoning.
So sure, long term the truth as we know it is better. But we would all do well to be a bit more accepting and tolerant of less-than-perfect behaviour. Because unless we’re going to all do that ourselves—and I know that’s not actually possible or desirable—then we really have no business holding other people to what are ultimately inhuman standards. More people lie for good reasons than bad ones. They’re often trying to be kinder, not more selfish.
So be kinder yourself. Let more go. Don’t be so defensive, so busy and so judgmental. Your lack of tolerance will do as much damage to your heart as to your relationships. Relax. See as much value in getting along as you do in being right. And don’t hold people to standards that you yourself couldn’t honestly meet. The world isn’t better when we’re all perfect. The world is better when we’re all open-minded and tolerant.
Have yourself a great day.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.