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Speaking the Truth

I have a thing about honesty. I always have. Some explain this by saying that I. as an Aquarian, of course will have a thing about honesty, since honesty is one of the cornerstones of the Aquarian mind. I am not sure I buy that, especially since my first husband was dishonest to the core and he was an Aquarian too. But the fact remains that honesty is extremely important to me.

I once met a woman, a tarot reader, with whom I spent some time getting acquainted. I liked her a lot and I hoped she would be a new friend. Then one day we were talking about friendship and what it meant to us, and I said that I wanted friends who were honest, reasonably self-aware, able to admit to their mistakes, and who had a good sense of humor. She turned to me and said--and I will never forget this, because it astounded me so much--"You ask a lot of your friends." I didn't know what to say.

Needless to say, I stopped seeking her out after that. In saying to me that I was "asking a lot," she was saying that she felt that honesty, self-awareness, the ability to admit mistakes, and a sense of humor were all beyond anything one could reasonably ask of, well, at least of her. Fine, fine. We all have the right to set our own standards for our relationships. But with that attitude, she surely wasn't going to be someone I would want around. I mean--what? I should accept someone, trust someone, who is already self-declared as dishonest, self-obtuse, unable to apologize, and has no sense of humor? No thanks.

Honesty Permeates Everything

Honesty permeates everything. Some people might call it the Truth, with a capital T. Ingrid Katal says that "truth is simple; everything else is complicated," and I wholeheartedly agree with her. Although I have not been completely honest myself my entire life, I have rarely strayed from the truth, and the habit of honesty is deeply ingrained.

One thing that I am particularly proud of is the fact that I have never lied to my daughter. This was a personal commitment I made to myself and to her before she was born, and one that I have never found difficult to carry through. I believe that the wonderful person she has turned out to be is due in part to the fact that I have always loved her fiercely and deeply and that I have, among other things, not lied to her. (Though this is the thing I am most proud of, in fact I am at a dsiadvantage when it comes to lying. I've never felt comfortable doing it the very few times I have. My transgressions fell mostly in the area of long ago calling in sick to work when I didn't feel I was truly sick enough to stay home; after a few times of trying that out, I decided to just be honest and tell my boss that I was taking a sick day even though I wasn't sick. Since I am a dedicated and valuable worker, this was acceptable to my managers and to me.)

But this discussion isn't about myself, except by way of example. It is instead about honesty (and the truth) and why it is so important.

Why is honesty so important? I recall how horrified I was in the mid-1980s when a male co-worker, who was a heavy user of personal ads as a way to find dates, said that it bothered him not in the slightest when he found out he had been lied to. "How," I asked him, "could you know that you were dealing with the real person if they are dishonest?" (It was only many years later that I realized that he was basically just looking for sexual partners, so he really didn't care because even their names didn't really matter to him, and he definitely didn't plan anything long term anyway. But still the question stands. Why would you want to be with someone even temporarily if they have lied to you?)

For example, if someone says that she loves the great outdoors, and you do too, and you take her camping, but it turns out that she loathes all things outdoorsy, then what? Especially, if she doesn't admit it, but instead takes it out on you by being cranky (or worse)? And in fact I have seen relationships based upon just this sort of deception, where the woman would say whatever she thought her lover wanted her to say, so that he would stay with her or even marry her. The truth always ended up coming out and wreaking havoc.

Why on earth would someone want to marry a man when she knows that he is marrying a lie and not who she really is? All his interactions with her are based on lies. He is at a disadvantage because he doesn't know that he is interacting with a lie, a mask she has fabricated and thrust between the two of them. He is not in fact interacting with the real her, and, while he may have a sense of uneasiness or of something not being quite right, he probably does not know what the problem truly is. She knows, but she feels guilty and dirty, if she is admitting the lie to herself at all, and hasn't gone into denial about it. Though she knew it was a lie when she told it.

Denial is just a way of lying to yourself. And the longer you allow the deception to carry on, the harder it is going to be to rectify it without major ramifications--and, in all likelihood, unless the man is a saint and loves you beyond reason, one of the ramifications is going to be the end of the relationship. (Mind you, I am not talking about one lie, told in a moment of weakness, which you regret and confess to. Anyone can do this, and should be allowed a second chance. I am talking about a habitual kind of lying.)

Of course, some men are deceivers and liars too, don't get me wrong--and probably just as many men as women.

What's Wrong With Lying?

One big problem with lying is that people start to doubt you. Once they know that you have lied, and especially once they know you have lied more than once, and especially if there was no justification for that lie (such as saving someone's life by lying to a criminal, though even then there is room for doubt as to whether that is the best course), but instead that you were lying to boast, or to boost your ego, or to (you think) look good in someone's eyes, or just because the lie sounded better in your own ears than what you see as the mundane truth, then people will start to discount everything you say. They may never say anything to you directly--after all, you have shown that you are less than trustworthy--but they will certainly be discussing it among themselves, and making decisions about whether they even want to continue to associate with you. If they do continue, and you should be thankful if they do, because it means they are kindly giving you a chance to rectify your ways, you can bet they aren't going to share everything with you. You will be on the outer edges, the periphery, and not in their closest circles. Unless, of course, they are liars themselves, in which case they still won't trust you, but they may be your closest "friends" (on the principle that birds of a feather flock together).

Another problem with lying is that it is much harder to regain a person's trust once you have lost it. And if you don't think that is such a big thing now, wait until someone who really matters to you puts some distance between you and them when they find out you have lied to them on a regular basis. No matter how much you beg or plead, a person can't--and shouldn't--set aside their knowledge that you have fundamentally broken a trust between you. And depending on the severity of the break, it is possible that you may never be in that person's life again in any significant way. Ever.

And yes, for those men who are wondering, cheating on your spouse is dishonest. If you really must have sex with another woman, have the decency to end your current relationship before skying off to the next. If you just want sex, have the decency not to get involved with women who want more. There are plenty of women out there who just want sex too--find them. You may not like them, but do you really care? That's what comes with the territory--when people are at the emotional, mental, and spiritual development level where they are having sex with whoever just for the sake of having sex, it is unlikely that either of you will be around long enough to notice, let alone care, what kind of person they are.

Dishonesty, Denial, and Insanity

Perhaps the biggest problem with dishonesty is not how it affects those around you. The biggest problem lies basically at your own core. When you lie, and then lie again, or lie to perpetuate a lie, each lie forms a little path inside your soul and brain, a path that can become bigger if you don't nip the action in the bud. And the bigger the path grows, the easier it is to lie, and so you lie more, in more areas of your life. Eventually, you start lying to yourself. Some people call this denial, and yes, denial is a form of dishonesty. A particularly insidious one at that, because what denial is at the very core is you lying to yourself--you telling yourself that some piece of reality is other than what it really is. And in that much, you have divested yourself of a true perception of reality. The more you lie to yourself, the more denial you go into, and therefore the less of the truth--of reality--you see.

Basically, if insanity is defined as not being aware of what reality is, then in lying to yourself you are not only going insane, but you are deliberately choosing to go insane rather than face reality. You are choosing to diminish your capacity to see what is really there, and, while you are at it, to distinguish right from wrong.

Causes of Lying

My words until now have been pretty blunt. I hope I have convinced some of you who are less than truthful to at least take a look at that aspect of your behavior and reconsider it. But now, with some gentleness, I want to take a look at some of the reasons for lying.

Fundamentally, a person lies because they are afraid. Think about it. If you weren't afraid of telling the truth, you would tell the truth, right? So if you are afraid of telling the truth, then perhaps it is time to take a look at yourself and your life situation and see what needs to change so that you are no longer afraid of lying.

Perhaps your spouse or partner is abusive to you--mentally, emotionally, sexually, or even physically--and the only way you can avoid harm is to lie to him or her. Perhaps, worse yet, they are harming your children. Of course, you should get out of that situation. I know it is hard, and I know that if you are in such a situation, you probably think you don't deserve better, or that the person you are with will change, or he/she doesn't mean it, or they will get better if only you do something differently.

Since I picked on women in my earlier example, I will use males as examples of abusive partners (since the majority of abusers are male anyway). Let's say that your partner is abusing you, but he periodically claims he will try to improve, and he even shows signs of improving for a short while before he goes back to beating you or making you feel small. You may think he will get better, but statistics and common sense say otherwise. Think about it. Only one of two things are possible. Either he has control over his abusive actions, in which case, since he is being abusive, the fact is that he enjoys it (and hence he will continue doing it), or he has no control over his actions, in which case it doesn't matter what he says, he is never going to change because he has deep-seated problems driving him. Some tiny percentage of men are abusive because they don't know any different--that tiny percentage of men is teachable, and it might even be possible to save a relationship with such a man. But he is rare, honey, very rare, so don't count on it. If you or your children (or both) are in danger (and if you are being abused in any way, you are in danger), then run away and find help. There are shelters for women and their children who are being abused. Find them. They can help you find your lost self-esteem and get you back on your feet and help you become stronger and more able to take care of yourself. If you are with an abuser because you don't think you can take care of yourself, know that that is a lie you have somewhere along the way come to believe about yourself, a lie that can be exposed.

But what if you aren't in that kind of situation? What if you are in perfectly normal situations, and yet you find yourself lying a lot? You might call it "stretching the truth" or "telling stories," and you may even think that, if you call your lies "stories," at least in your own head, that you are excused, because after all, fiction is acceptable even though it is "telling stories" and therefore a kind of lie. But the difference between fiction and lies is that, with fiction, everyone knows it is fiction and everyone understands it as such and as entertainment.

But if you tell an amusing but untrue anecdote about something you did to a sibling, for example, and you represent that anecdote as the truth, even by omission (i.e., you don't explicitly say, "this is the truth," but neither do you explicitly say, "this is a nice story that I have made up and there isn't much truth in it"), then you are lying. And believe me, your lies will have holes in them, and people will see them, and even if they are too polite to mention those holes, they notice and make mental notes to themselves that you are not perhaps the most reliable source of information. So ask yourself, what's the point? Why are you telling these stories as though they were true? If you fancy yourself a storyteller, then write these stories down as stories, not as the truth, and for God's sake, don't tell the stories to others as though they were the truth.

More fundamentally, ask yourself why you feel the need to tell these stories as truth in the first place. What fear is driving you to lie like that? Find that fear, confront it, face it down, and stop lying. You'll be happy you did.

I recently just completed reading The Secret Life of Bees. (If you haven't already read it, do yourself a favor and rush right out and get this book. Unlike so much of what passes for literature, especially these days, in which being dreary and jaded with life is The Thing, and in which many pieces of "literature" are mired in their own self-importantness, to the point where the writer has lost all sight of the readers--and reason--and instead has oh so carefully crafted a complete waste of time passing as literature, The Secret Life of Bees is a complete story--it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it is positive and a bit mystical but is very grounded in reality, and affirms love and friendship and many other positive human values. Buy it--you will be glad you did. I know I will be reading this book more than once.) Anyway, in this book, there is a passage that struck me as a good conclusion to this essay:

"Knowing can be a curse on a person's life. I'd traded in a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn't know which one was heavier. Which one took the most strength to carry around? It was a ridiculous question, though, because once you know the truth, you can't ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies. Heavier or not, the truth is yours." (The Secret Life of Bees, hardcover edition, pages 255-256.)

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