Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Everyday Lies

As shameful as it is to admit, I lie every day. Most of the time, I don't even think about it. Sometimes, I know that what I'm saying isn't entirely honest, but I'm saying it to be kind. Sometimes, I'm fully aware of my deception.

Before you cast stones, please understand that I'm not talking about earth-shattering, world-changing lies. I recognize that the severity of the lie doesn't make it any more or less a lie. No more than the severity of any other sin makes it any more or less a sin.

My intention here is to discuss the "everyday lies" that we may tend to gloss over, because we often don't perceive them to be what they really are – less than truthful. Yes, I said "we" – because, chances are, many of you are probably guilty of one or more of these on a regular basis yourselves.

So, here they are – the ones I could think of at least. So that it doesn't appear that I'm pointing fingers at anyone other than myself, I'll word my explanations from my own perspective. But I'm betting most of us are in the same boat on a few, if not all, of these.

1)  "I'm fine."  How easy it is to say "I'm fine", when the question is posed, especially in passing. I may be having the worst day of my life, or I may feel awful, or I may not even feel anything. But the question, from a friend or family member, or possibly a stranger seems to come so easily – "How are you doing?" – and the answer comes just as easily: "I'm fine." Maybe I'm saying it out of consideration for the other person's valuable time. I can see that they're just being polite – they don't actually care how I'm doing. They may not even know who I am. Why should I waste their time, or impose upon their politeness by replying, "Well, I think I'm having a nervous breakdown," or "My right foot hurts – I think my athlete's foot is flaring up again", or perhaps, "I really don't feel like talking to you, Total Stranger, but thank you for inquiring about the state of my well-being." But instead I say, "I'm fine."

2)  "It's nothing."  How often are simple arguments/discussions/ disagreements prolonged by the simple statement, "It's nothing"? I've often said it myself, usually when I don't feel like fighting with someone. Or I deem whatever the "nothing" is to be less important the energy I will expend in dealing with it, whether verbally, physically, or otherwise. "It's nothing" is probably one of the most transparent lies I will ever tell. Because if I'm visibly upset enough that you are asking me the question "What's wrong?", then it's obvious that "something" is bothering me, and it's not "nothing". Maybe the problem is an embarrassing one that I don't want to talk about. Or, like the previous scenario, I don't know the person who's asking me the question, and I figure it's none of their business anyway. Or maybe I feel like the "something" is "nothing" in comparison to other, more important "somethings" – like the War On Terror, for instance, or perhaps famine, or the rising cost of living. So I trivialize the "something" in my own mind, and simply say, "It's nothing."

3)  "No, I don't mind."  This lie is particularly disingenuous, yet it's most often fueled by simple kindness. Someone is in need – they ask for my help. My selfishness kicks in – I don't want to help them. They should help themselves, I think. And I'm a half-second away from telling them so, and then I realize my foolishness, come to my senses, and say "No, I don't mind." Maybe they're asking if I will help them move their things to their new apartment, or they're requesting special permission to miss drama practice, or maybe they just want that last fry on my plate. And sometimes I do mind. Sometimes I don't want to give up what I consider to be rightfully mine – whether it's my free time, my full cast, or my French fry. But I consider the alternative. If I were in this situation, and I was asking the same or similar request of someone else, and I was truly in need, what would I want their answer to be? And so I reply, "No, I don't mind."

4)  "I'm sorry to hear that."  This little white lie is the companion piece to "I'm fine," but carries its own set of embarrassing admissions. As easy as it is to answer "How are you doing?", it's just as easy to ask the same question. Every now and then, I get an honest reply from someone. "Not too good, actually. I've got this problem with so-and-so..." Or  maybe the question I pose is, "How's your wife doing? And your kids?" And I'm "treated" to a lengthy outline of the problems you're having, whether it's your child who keeps getting sent to the principal's office for acting up in class, or it's the financial problems you're have due to mounting debt, or maybe even – God forbid! – marital issues that you're dealing with. And, while my mind may already have moved on to other subjects, other people, or to nothing in particular at all – I'm looking you in the eye, and nodding my head (or shaking it, whichever is more appropriate), and waiting for a break in the conversation so I can frown and say, "I'm sorry to hear that." Don't get me wrong – this is not something I do in every circumstance, or every conversation I have with friends or family members. Quite often, I truly care what's going on in the lives of people I like, or even love. But then sometimes I don't. And that's when it gets dicey. And I lie and say, "I'm sorry to hear that."

5)  "It's okay. Really."  This one is quite similar to "No, I don't mind", and not too dissimilar from "It's nothing". But I've separated it out for one specific reason. This is the lie that deals with forgiveness. Someone has wronged me, I feel slighted, maybe even hurt. And they're apologizing. I'm usually quick to forgive, but what they did this time really bothered me. And it's not okay. But they're expecting me to accept their apology, trusting them not to wrong me, or slight me, or hurt me again in the future. I don't trust people easily, and so I'm skeptical of the reasons behind their apology. And I'm hesitant to forgive. But then I think about all the ways in which I've wronged others, slighted them, and even hurt them. And I want to be forgiven. In some cases, I want to be forgiven without the embarrassment of having to apologize in the first place, as selfish as I know that sentiment to be. Then I think about the ways in which I've wronged my God, and slighted Him, and hurt Him. And all the times I've asked Him to forgive me. And He does, every time without fail. And I hang my head in shame, look into the pleading eyes of my brother or sister, and simply say, "It's okay. Really."

What do we do about these "everyday lies"? Do we think before we speak, every time we speak? Do we carefully consider whether or not honesty is, in fact, the best policy, in every case? Or do we tell the truth always, regardless of the consequences?

I don't have the answers. I think there probably aren't any easy answers. I'm just bringing up the question.

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