Here are three words you will never hear anyone say: “I am lying.”
The whole point of lying is to make your hearers believe that they are hearing the truth. Why, then, would you tell them that what they’re hearing is not the truth?
In murder mystery novels and TV shows, witnesses always break down at some point and admit that their previous testimony was less than accurate. “But you have to believe me,” they always say. “I’m telling the truth now.”
Why should I believe you this time?
Earlier this year, National Geographic magazine did a cover story on lying. According to them, lying may correlate with higher intelligence. Liars have to use their brains harder to keep track of multiple stories – both what’s true and what they have claimed is true.
The story left cause and effect unanswered. Does superior brain power encourage people to lie? Or does lying force the brain to work harder?
I’m inclined towards the latter explanation.
Learning the difference
Children between five and seven years old apparently know the difference between the truth and what they want to be the truth. (Some politicians share the same disability.) I didn’t break the vase, kick the cat, scratch the car… because I don’t want to take responsibility for it.
But at some point, those children do make a distinction. Though not as a moral principle, yet. In a self-centred world, lying is a matter of practicality – if lying gets you the result you want, it must be okay. If it gets you into trouble, don’t do it.
I suspect that all teenagers lie. It’s part of the process of individuation, of developing a personality that is not merely a clone of their parents. I certainly lied at times., because I knew my parents wouldn’t approve of some things I had done. Or hadn’t done.
For some reason, one episode sticks in my mind.
I was hitch-hiking to the university campus in Vancouver. I had spent the previous summer working in Kitimat, then a new industrial city being built in northern B.C.
A woman gave me a ride. “Where are you from?” she asked, making casual conversation.
“Kitimat,” I lied.
Why did I lie? I still don’t know. But I knew enough about Kitimat to spin a good story.
In some way, my lies made me feel superior. I knew which story was real; she didn’t. That gave me an invisible advantage.
The easier route
Fortunately, I never met that woman again. So I didn’t have to keep track of my web of deception to avoid future embarrassment.
At some time in early adulthood, I must have made a decision not to lie. Perhaps I found that lying complicates life too much. Besides, memory is always subject to distortion. It’s hard enough sometimes to remember what really happened, let alone how I described it last time.
Sticking to the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable, makes life much simpler.
Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes I don’t understand a situation. Even then, I believe it’s better to be honestly wrong than to try to cover up by pretending to be right.
Honesty is the best policy, says an old maxim. It’s right. Not because honesty is mandated by God, the Bible, or any other authority. Just because it’s easier to live with.
Copyright © 2017 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To comment on this column, write firstname.lastname@example.org
Several of you took the last line of last week’s column literally. I asked, “So how are you, really?”
Randy Hall wrote back: “I’m doing just fine, thank you. Really.”
Others went into more detail, not necessarily for publication. Thank you. I’m grateful that you trusted me with your lives. And that kind of correspondence also helps me keep track of who my readers are.
Ralph Schmidt, for example: “I am in transition from many years in active parish ministry to retirement. I am trying to rediscover energy that has somehow dissipated over the past years. Age is taking its pound of flesh (and at times adding a few).
“Reflecting on asking a question and not listening, there have been several times when I have been asked how I was, knew there was little real interest, and so would respond with something like ‘Well, I died yesterday and nobody cared’, or ‘Sick in bed, thanks’. And all too often the response was ‘That’s good, have a nice day’.
“Your point about listening is well taken, as is the idea that if you don’t want to know and take the time to be there, don’t ask.”
John Shaffer (who lives in Auburn, Washington) unburdened himself: “I am feeling under a lot of stress over the political situation in my country. What our so-called President does is bad enough, but the really sad thing is that 49% of the populace seem to be pleased with his views and actions. I knew that right-wing Christians really didn't care much about Christian principles, but were on a quest to upset a lot of political items, and now they are proving it.
“Years ago I preached a sermon on the dangers of theocracy. Now it is coming to pass right in front on my eyes. And I no longer have a pulpit.”
Tom Watson picked up the same theme: “When I was in active ministry, I shook hands with people as they exited the church on Sunday morning. I also looked directly at each person and asked, ‘How are you?’ The general answer was, ‘I'm fine.’ It wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon, sitting in the person's living room, that I learned she/he wasn't fine at all. Fact is, everybody is carrying some unseen burden -- sometimes small, sometimes large.
“I think the reason I avoid answering the question fully is that If I really tell you how I am, I'll expose those chinks in my armour that render me vulnerable, whereas I need to appear strong and durable...even when I'm not. I prefer the social pleasantry to sharing at a deeper level because it's safer.
“The other side to it, of course, is that being asked -- no matter how we choose to answer -- helps us, perhaps forces us, to sort out some thoughts and feelings. And there's value in that.”
A personal addendum from me: Tom’s wife Janice died Monday morning, around 4:00 a.m. Those of you who subscribe to Tom’s blog (note below) will already know this. Janice had breast cancer six years ago, and it returned and metastasized. Under the circumstances, I’m amazed that Tom can respond at all to a “How are you?” question.
Jean Hamilton took a humourous slant: “Maybe it's a thing with lawyers, or maybe it's just that mine has been living in a small town too long, but his answer to ‘How are you?’ is ‘Fine. Why? What did you hear?’”
I wasn’t going to use Psalm 106 for this paraphrase; the alternative reading was Psalm 23, a much more lovable text. But I keep reading in the news that oil companies knew all along that CO2 emissions would affect climate; tobacco companies knew all along that smoking would affect health; sugar companies knew all along that sugar was harmful, and so they funded anti-fat research… Maybe Psalm 106 has more to say to us. So here’s a pair of character sketches.
The fawning lackey.
1 Congratulations, Lord. You have achieved your goals magnificently.
2 But who am I to brag about your achievements?
I'm only a small cog in your mighty machinery.
4 Still, don't forget me.
I may be small, but I played a part in your success.
5 If it's all right with you, I'd like to share in some of your glory.
3 You should reward those who didn't rock your boat,
who didn't crack under pressure,
who didn't foul up your press releases.
4 When you hand out the bonuses, please remember me.
Confession of a corporate sinner
6 We have made bad decisions;
we pursued harmful policies.
We sold our country and our culture to gain an advantage over our competitors;
we traded our birthright for a mess of promises.
It seemed expedient at the time.
19 Our companies making war equipment profited from the misery of helpless people.
20 We have written God into our constitution
and written God out of our decision-making.
21 We have no room for God in economics and politics.
22 We have forgotten what God has done in the past;
we have assumed that God will not act against us in the future.
23 Now God is angry.
Please God, do not destroy me.
I am no Moses, but I can plead with you too.
Remember that we are your children, and you love us.
For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
YOU SCRATCH MY BACK…
· Ralph Milton’s most recent project, Sing Hallelujah -- the world’s first video hymnal -- consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at www.singhallelujah.ca
· Isabel Gibson's thoughtful and well-written blog, www.traditionaliconoclast.com
· Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://www.churchwebcanada.ca>
· Alva Wood's satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town are not particularly religious, but they are fun; write firstname.lastname@example.org to get onto her mailing list.
· Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at email@example.com
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My webpage is up and running again -- thanks to Wayne Irwin and ChurchWeb Canada. You can now access current columns and about five years of archives at http://quixotic.ca
I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a note to email@example.com