It can be difficult to tell the truth. As children, we’re instructed in its importance. “It’s a sin to tell a lie.” At home, in school and church, the need for truthfulness is stressed until telling the truth becomes something of a second nature.
Until you slip up, that is. Until you let air a tiny truth that you didn’t know was really a secret disguised as a truth.
The first of such occasions usually happens when you’re still a child. You know the sort of thing I mean, the little bits of truth blurted at the grocery store, in church, or around the Thanksgiving dinner table:
“Daddy wears a toupee.”
“Mommy’s boobs are fake.”
“Mommy and Daddy were playing horsie.”
“Buster eats his own poop.”
The uproar and hoopla that follows such an innocent remark often involves a sharp shake, perhaps a slap, and is punctuated by an injunction to “mind your own business,” and “keep family secrets at home.”
Secret? you think. That was a secret? But it’s the truth!
Ah . . . that fine line. Careful walking it; you’re bound to fall off.
So you learn to be watchful. You learn there are levels to telling the truth and just because it’s true doesn’t mean it should be said. Confusing, isn’t it? No one wants to hear a hurtful truth. (“You’re not the prettiest girl in the world, but you have a good heart.” That’s a favorite out of my personal bag of thinly veiled insult.) There’s that fabled ‘little white lie’ invoked to make the liar feel more comfortable. But it’s still a lie, isn’t it? “Oh, it doesn’t hurt anyone,” is the excuse most often given. Maybe so . . . but it’s still a lie; a sanctioned lie, maybe, but a lie nevertheless.
“Everyone lies,” says Dr. Gregory House in the television show of the same name. He’s right.
Children learn by example. “Do as I say and not as I do” might be a parent’s ideal, but it doesn’t carry much weight. As you do, so will your child. If you are a chronic liar, there is a great chance that your child will be one, too . . . at least until they develop the self-awareness to realize what you’re doing and to understand the ramifications. At that point, they might make the decision to live their life differently . . . but not necessarily. And they’ll still lie.
And isn’t it earth-rocking the first time you realize your parents have lied to you? I’m not talking about the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. Any kid with common sense sees through that chicanery pretty quickly. They’re a good example of those little white lies that don’t really hurt anyone. I’m talking about big lies, major lies that destroy any possibility of future trust.
Need examples? Here’s one: When I was a kid, my eldest sister gave me a pair of ducklings as pets. One day, long after they had grown into beautiful, white, long-necked adults, they disappeared. Mom told me they had run away. Of course I believed her. She was my mom. She wouldn’t lie to me. I found out years later that they were given to my uncle, who killed and ate them. Similar thing happened to my rabbits. Gone, vanished, disappeared one morning when I went out to feed them. Mom swears that this time it’s true, this time they did run away. Do I believe her?
Yeah. And pigs will fly out my ass.
Her excuse for lying? “I didn’t want you to be mad at me.” Jesus Christ, woman, take responsibility for your actions.
Need another example? Years ago, I had this great dog. Yogi. Border collie (possibly a mix), the best dog ever for a kid — loyal, attentive, gentle. One day, he trotted off down our road (we lived in the country and back then — early 60s this was — everyone let their dogs run loose) and never came back. Guess how many “truths” I’ve heard about his disappearance. Mom said, “He went away to die and didn’t want to upset you.” (Uh-huh.) Someone else told me, “He was found dead under a tree, must’ve been hit by a car.” A few years back, my sister told me he’d been shot. My dog. Swear to God, those words reverberated in my head. Her response at seeing my shock. “Oh, didn’t you know?”
Where’s the truth in that mess? Any question why I trust very little that comes out of my family? Bet you feel the same way sometimes.
Lies aren’t only spoken. Lies can be silent. Lies are those times you should speak out and don’t . . . or feel you can’t. If you’re taught early on to keep a low profile, keep your head down and your eyes to the ground, keep your lips sealed, you’ll find it very, very hard to speak your mind about even the simplest of things, the tiny easy truths such as what you’d like for dinner, where you want to go, your favorite color. You’re afraid of offending; afraid of upsetting the other person; afraid of their reaction to your words. You hold them in, close to your heart, and leave them unsaid . . . but they never go away. They wait behind the barrier of your teeth.
I have this problem a lot. Oddly enough, it usually surfaces with regards to my husband, who is a really nice guy. Something relatively minor might occur that bugs me and instead of just bringing it up, I keep it inside. Why? The usual reasons — I don’t want to bother him, I don’t want to upset him. I also am not certain I will be listened to. Not just heard — as long as our ears work, we hear — but listened to.
Case in point — I brought up something this morning that has been festering for years. Not a big thing, a really small thing, but I had never spoken my truth and I finally felt brave enough this morning to do so. He listened (or at least heard me), but he never once looked me in the face the entire time I spoke. He stared straight ahead. I’m not sure what to make of that. I don’t want to read anything into it (we get in trouble when we make assumptions), but it almost appeared as if he just wanted to get it over-with and move on.
(He has this “joke” he makes: “I listen, but I don’t comply.” Har-de-har-har. That’s all well and good, but he doesn’t see the insult in the remark. What if the person speaking is telling you something they truly need from you? If you choose not to comply (and choice is there, obviously; we don’t all get what we want all the time), shouldn’t you say WHY you won’t comply, so they know they’re not just being ignored? If you feel you’re ignored, what’s the point in speaking your truth?)
I know the answer to that now.
Speak it for YOURSELF.
There’s another lying silence I want to touch on, if only briefly. I bring it up because it’s part of some reading I’m doing right now, some work, and part of my own past. And that’s the silent lie of abuse. Pick your poison – alcohol; drugs; sexual; spiritiual; emotional; neglect. Silence is their greatest advocate. Silence makes them strong. I know a young man who tried as a child to make himself heard about the abuse and neglect going on in his mother’s house. Some of us knew about the neglect and tried to help (with precious little effect thanks to the state legal system). His school teachers refused to help. They didn’t want to get involved. (One of them actually told me this.) No one knew about the abuse. Can you blame him? No one listened to the truth he was able to express, so why should he trust them with that greater, more awful truth?
We learn to tell the truth only when we feel safe in doing so and it’s my observation that we as a people rarely feel that safe, whether it be in our jobs, our friendships, or our families. Maybe the key lies in first learning to feel safe with ourselves.