Terrible Things

Terrible things happen all the time, but September is a month I approach with extreme caution. It is a time of year that has been marked by private and public tragedy–a season of great fear and sorrow personally and nationally. … Continue reading

Why Worry?

When it comes to the landscape of my mind, worries grow like weeds. Ridding my thoughts of fear, doubt, or anxiety does not come easily for me. I’ve always had a tendency to entertain worry. It was my first imaginary … Continue reading

The Lies Most of Us Tell

One of the first values we teach children is honesty, so why do adults lies so often? Why are lies such a common component of our daily lives and conversations? At one time or another we’ve all been dishonest, but lying is still something we’re quick to condemn others for. Look at how happily the media indicted and ridiculed one of their own for a lie he told. I’m not excusing his dishonesty, but his punishment seemed hypocritical. We’re all imperfect. We have all distorted the truth. It’s a vice we all share, so why do we act so surprised or judgmental when others do it?

True, not all lies are created equal. They come in different sizes and are told for different reasons. Some lies are nefarious and giant. They’re designed to hide big crimes. They’re told to obfuscate large sins. They cover infidelity, inequality, and brutality. They start wars, suppress freedoms, and spread hate like an airborne disease.

The lies most of us tell, however, come in smaller, daily doses. How often do you tell someone you can’t when what you really mean is you don’t want to?

Sometimes we lie because we prefer to do what’s easy rather than what is right. If telling the truth is climbing a steep flight of stairs, lying is gliding down a slide. For some of us, lying becomes like gravity. It’s a force at work in our lives, and we mostly respond to it without thinking.

Some of us lie to fit in. We trim our morals down to a more comfortable and portable size. We take the heat out of our convictions so they’ll be more palatable. We mince our words so others will find them easier to swallow.

Honesty can be expensive. It can cost us someone’s favor or friendship. It may force us to surrender an illusion we’ve held—of our world, someone else, or of our self.

Oftentimes we lie out of fear. We’re frightened the truth will harm someone we care about. We tell ourselves we’re lying to protect them—that the lie is harmless, but the truth would hurt. We don’t want them to suffer, so we lie and call it love. But lies build a faulty foundation, and dishonesty smothers genuine affection.

If I’m not afraid of honesty hurting you, then I fear it will hurt me. I worry that you’ll kill the messenger or see me as an adversary.

We’re afraid of what others will think of us if we’re completely honest. We don’t want to sound stupid, so we pretend to understand things we don’t. (One of the hardest truths for me to utter is, “I don’t know.”) We don’t want to look weak, so we mask our feelings. We lie to minimize our flaws or embellish our strengths. We lie to seem richer, busier, happier, or more important.

Lying is often an act of self-preservation. Sometimes we are trying to preserve the image of ourselves we want others to see. Sometimes we wish our lies were the truth—like offering congratulations while feeling apathy or envy. We hope that by uttering the lie we’ll transform it into reality.

I’d be lying if I said I’m always honest. I want to be a truthful person, but sometimes I find myself lying like a reflex—even when the stakes are very small. I know I’ll never be perfectly honest, but hopefully I can at least keep moving in that direction. Step one is to learn my lying habits and then address them. Who am I trying to impress? What am I trying to prove? Am I acting like someone I’m not or attempting to avoid a punishment or rebuke?

From a very young age we’re told lying is wrong. And then these white lies creep into our world. They’re disguised as being polite or kind. That was delicious! I’d love to help you move! You don’t look fat in that dress (as if fat can’t be beautiful). I wish I could make it, but I’m busy that day. Yes, you do have the world’s cutest baby. I’m sorry. I don’t mind. I’m not worried. I’m not mad. I can’t eat this whole dessert on my own. You’re not bothering me. I’m comfortable.

Why do we call them white lies? Are they pure or innocent? Are they soft like cotton or delicate like snow? Are they completely innocuous?

White lies are still betrayals. Even small lies can do harm. And perhaps, and worse of all, small lies make bigger lies necessary—or at least possible.

The truth is often hard, but it doesn’t have to be cruel. Honesty can be gentle just as lies can wound. Truth delivered in love might still hurt or sting, but I find it’s those truths that have been sharpened by lies that are the most cutting.

Fear Is a Liar

I have always felt different: I’m the shortest of my siblings. I was the only black kid in my class for six out of thirteen years. I was one of the few (if not the only) kid on my block leaving my neighborhood to attend a private school. I have often been (or felt like) the only Christian in the room. I have felt different because of how I look (veiny arms for a woman, too much weight and too many curves when I wanted to be a ballerina, my overbite). But mostly I feel different because of the thoughts that enter (uninvited) into my brain and the fears (though unwelcome) that I begrudgingly entertain.

Every now and again I will let an ordinary occurrence engender a dark daydream. For example, just the other evening I was walking down the street as two men smoking cigarettes were walking towards me. And for some reason I wondered the following: What if one of them decided to put his cigarette out in my eye? I don’t know where that thought came from or why, but there it was as they passed me by. Thankfully, worries like that are usually short-lived, but I wish they didn’t exist.

I’m afraid of so many things. I fear the call at an odd hour is bad news. I’m afraid of the dark—black hole dark—the kind of deep dark that doesn’t even permit shadows. I’m afraid of dying (especially painfully or violently), but sometimes I find the concept of living forever almost equally terrifying. I’m afraid of flying, falling, and crashing. I’m afraid of not trying, of failing, and of succeeding. I’m afraid of getting hurt—emotionally and physically. I’m afraid of never living up to my mother’s legacy—or of living a life that leaves no good mark—or one devoid of meaning. And given the fraught final years of my grandparents’ lives, I’m afraid of what my old age will look like. Mostly I’m afraid I’m getting it all wrong, that I’m wasting time, and that (given the missteps I’ve made) there’s no good way forward—no way to recover.

If I could set aside any aspect of my humanity, I would disown my fear. That emotion drives me in directions I do not want to go. It keeps me inactive or slows my progress to a crawl. It renders me distracted—preoccupied with potential pitfalls and worst-case scenarios (however unlikely or unrealistic).

Fear of what awaits prevents me from more fully engaging in whatever (or whoever) is before me in the present. Fear of embarrassment or failure stops me from taking more chances. Fear of being misunderstood, dismissed, or disliked makes me hold my tongue. I withdraw from certain experiences for fear of getting hurt.

When I don’t act or take a risk, it is usually because of fear disguised as wisdom. When I don’t dream—when I hang back from an opportunity, it is because of fear clothed to look like being realistic or practicality.

Fear stills my hands, binds my feet, and shackles my tongue. Fear turns my head away form my hopes and dreams and focuses my eyes on the worst-case scenario. It nails my aspirations to the ground. Fear persuades me to expect the worst even in the midst of the best. Fear denies me peace and sound sleep—it won’t allow for a moment of rest.

I have spent my lifetime learning how to undermine my fears—to shine a light on them until they disappear. At first they look mountainous, but in the face of faith and logic, few of them stand up.

All too often my fear is a liar. It pretends to be prudence. It acts insurmountable. But most of what I fear can’t or won’t ever be real. There is little foundation or substance to much of what scares me. Most of my fears are more rooted in dysfunctional imagination than reality.

Every time I set aside a fear I become a bit more free. Without fear, I enjoy things more deeply. Without fear I can more fully inhabit the present. Without fear, I don’t have to worry about what others think, and so I speak and act with more honesty.

Fear will come from time to time; it is a natural emotion. What I’m trying to avoid is giving fear too much control. There are a few fears that might save my life, but surrendering too much to fear will shrink my living down to an unhealthy size.