What Is Reality?

Cloudy sunset and reflection of sunset on a glassy table.

In this digital age, what is reality? We regularly conflate facts with feelings and opinions—whether out of laziness, deceitfulness, or ignorance. Social media is teeming with people self-righteously clinging to their beliefs and bludgeoning others with them. Because, as we … Continue reading

Confronting My Criticism

Criticism comes easily to me. I have judgmental tendencies. It’s one of my vices—one of my uglier qualities. Usually, when I judge (and then criticize) it’s because I’m writing someone else’s story rather than learning his/her reality. Perhaps it’s human nature. Perhaps it’s just my nature. I use appearances to fill in the blanks. But appearances are just that—they are how things seem. Quite often how things appear is very different from the truth that lies beneath.

In confronting my criticism, I usually find that it’s come out of either ignorance or insecurity. It’s when I’m least happy with myself that I’m most regularly guilty of judging and criticizing. I project my own insecurities and ideas onto other people. For example, when I’m feeling unhappy with my own body, I start to pay more attention to the bodies of others. I see someone who is thin and I make assumptions. I see someone who is heavy—perhaps eating a large dessert—and I judge. But the truth is I don’t know the truth. I don’t have the full story. Not all overweight people are gluttonous or lazy. Not all skinny people are disciplined or healthy. It is unfair of me to use someone’s exterior to define and/or criticize that person’s interior. It’s not my job to judge or make assumptions. It is my job to become comfortable with myself and my choices. That leaves me freer to accept how others choose to live. It prompts me to ask instead of assuming, and to wonder instead of judging.

I have to regularly remind myself that not everyone sees or experiences the world the way I do—and that what is right for me isn’t necessarily right for everyone. This was illustrated for me in a powerful way just the other day. Two people were asked to stand back to back and describe what they could see. Each participant, although standing as close as humanely possible to the other person, had a completely different view. Too often I forget how well this illustrates much of life. You and I can grow up in the same family, neighborhood, country, or era and experience all of it differently because we are two different people with two different perspectives, personalities, and predispositions. What you find thrilling, I might find frightening. What you experience as a freedom, I might experience as confining. Where you see risk, I might see opportunity. Looking at the same words, one of us might see an insult while the other sees something complimentary.

I get in trouble with criticism and judgment when I forget that everyone is doing the best he/she can with the resources (physical, emotional, financial, et cetera) he/she has. If I don’t understand another person’s actions, it’s probably because I haven’t tried to understand that person’s perspective.

I do believe that some things are right and some things are wrong. But I believe more things are right for some and wrong for others. There is a big difference between right or wrong for me and right or wrong as absolutes. It’s important that I assign those designations with extreme caution—and remain flexible when I do.

As a Christian, I am called to love—not to judge. It’s not my job to police humanity—to expect others to act, feel, or live the way I do (or would in their position). If you asked one thousand people to draw a flower, you’d get all sorts of varieties and colors. That’s what criticism often forgets, that diversity is natural and different doesn’t mean wrong.

 

“The only thing that counts is

faith expressing itself through love.”

~ Galatians 5:6b

 

Note to the reader:

This is a slightly different version of a piece I originally wrote for The Body Is Not an Apology.

 

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.