The Devastating Truth of Dishonesty
So let us not talk falsely nowBob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower
The hour is getting late
I recently experienced direct, in-my-face, deception. This was not one of my grandchildren trying to hide a mistake, someone’s exaggerated fishing story, or an insincere compliment. When I finally recognized it, it took my breath away. How far will we go to get what we want?
The reality is that we’ve become comfortable with dishonesty. We expect it in advertising, the stories we are told, news headlines, political speeches, and social media. We’ve come to accept “white lies,” exaggeration, and hyperbole, as fully acceptable to avoid confrontation, hurt feelings, or resistance. We move fluidly through half-truths to maintain the peace, justify our decisions, or move people to adopt our views. On the other side, we often know it is happening, and allow, or even choose to believe.
We say we want the truth but we prefer that it align with our desires and are quite content to allow ourselves to be deceived when it suits our purposes. Sure, we’ll later claim moral outrage as we disingenuously criticize our deceiver but the truth is: we willfully let it happen.
What about when it really counts? You know, the kind of deception that costs money or really hurts other people? How about the kind of dishonesty that manipulates or seeks to take advantage? The seriousness of a falsehood lives upon a continuum with the acceptable white lies on one end and the really nasty, hurtful, deceits skulking at the other end. We naturally intuit the spectrum and most of us live within an “honor code” of our deceptive ways.
How we perpetrate a deception also matters. For example, deceiving through omission is far more acceptable than a bold-faced lie. We rationalize lies of omission as fair game in the self-justified hypocrisy of “wordsmithing” or “splitting hairs” over how explicitly intention was captured in the contract or promise. Even though we might have known what the other intended, we’ll let the deception roll along because the correct word wasn’t used, or, we’ll avoid seeking clarification.
Caught in such deceptions, we’ll frequently double-down by claiming misunderstanding, an “honest” mistake, or even more boldly, the disingenuous criticism of accusing the other of not being “clear” in their intentions.
Have we become so jaded that we barely notice? Such perpetual dishonesty is a cancer of the soul. It eats away at our moral fabric and undermines even our best intentions as the good we do is stained with falsehood. Are we allowing it? Are we foisting it upon those around us?
As They Really Are
Wisdom is seeing things as they really are.Pope Benedict XVI
We may have become comfortable with deception but we still recognize it as hurtful, particularly when we’re on the receiving end. But we often allow ourselves to be deceived. Why is that?
Desire. The truth is that we really want certain things to happen and deception occurs on both sides of our desires. In the midst of our desires, we often struggle to see things as they really are. A friend recently opened a blog post by writing, “Hope is not a strategy.” Actually, it is. To rest on hope alone is to surrender responsibility and submit oneself to fate. We do it all the time. We hope we are accepted. We hope we are chosen. We hope “things work out.” We hope the other is telling us the truth.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m a big believer in hope. It is critical to happiness and our ability to continue to move forward. Hope says “there’s still a chance.” The problem is, our hope often gets attached to fantasy. Yes miracles happen, but we cannot stop as we wait for them. There are times when hoping for a miracle is all we have left, however, most of the time, many choices remain between what we hope for and how the world is behaving around us.
So how do we see things as they really are? First, we have to desire the truth, and be willing to accept it. Getting the headlines we want doesn’t mean they are the truth. The warm, fuzzy, ad affirming how wonderful our life will be when we buy that new piece of furniture is not necessarily the truth. Someone telling us what we want to hear as they behave counter to their words could indicate a different truth than what we desire.
Seeking the truth sometimes means walking toward the places we least desire. Often the truth hides behind fear and doubt. Reality can be difficult, disappointing, maddening, and enraging. Avoiding it will not make it go away and often results in even more damage to us. Walking directly at what we most fear is often the most liberating thing we can do. In this way, the truth will set you free.
Sometimes we just can’t see it clearly. Often, the signs are mixed and our hope can muddle it even more. Part of seeking the truth is asking the difficult questions and being prepared for the answers. On the continuum of deception, the direct question is the hardest one to refuse. We would much prefer to hide amid ambiguity and the direct ask removes the fuzziness – for all involved. It takes courage to seek such answers and we are strengthened in the asking.
What happens when you find the truth? You must have the humility to accept it. Sometimes this means surrendering your desires to a reality you would not choose. However, there are still choices to be made. Choices that can only become clear when we see things as they really are.