Recently, I’ve run into and had to deal with a couple of addicts. I think of them now because no one lies more than an addict. An acquaintance of mine is going through a terrible time and I’ve tried to be there for him as much as a broken man can. But it’s an interesting relationship to begin with. I know he’s an addict and I know half the things he tells me are lies. Sometimes he lies with no apparent reason because he’s just so used to it, other times its just part of a hustle to get money out of me. I’ve only ever given him bus money and I’m never one to deny someone a smoke but that won’t stop him from trying for more.
He’s a good guy. Smart and has his wits about him. Very perceptive. I see all of that underneath his addiction and I just accept the lies for they are. He’s deserving of a friendly ear and companionship, regardless of his flaws.
So yeah, addicts are a great example of liars, but are the rest of us telling the truth? I don’t think so. I think most people are lying most of the time but in a different way.
There are two types of lies, when you know you’re being dishonest and when you don’t know what the truth is.
I’ve recently had to deal with people knowingly lying with some people at work. These people aren’t liars, I wouldn’t define them that way, but when people are scared of what the truth really is, its easy to lie despite the damning effects it might have on others (me). I think this is when people knowingly lie the most; when the pressure is on and there is just too much to at stake; they hold on to the lie as if they are hanging on for dear life. I don’t have much to say about this but I suspect that most people, most of the time, are not knowingly lying.
Its ignorance that makes liars out of us most of the time. Honesty implies access to the truth which we seldom have. I remember a professor once, when talking about how to write surveys and questions for social research, telling us, “if you want to know what someone really thinks, the worst thing you can do is ask them.” The statement was likely somewhat tongue in cheek but it was a profound statement nonetheless. What she meant is, most people don’t know what they really think.
I have another little story (I may have told this one before). When I was a kid I did my job at annoying my older sisters quite well. One day my sister was in front of the mirror plucking her eyebrows. I gave her a puzzled look and said, “who the hell cares about eyebrows!?” And she explained to me that while I might not notice a woman’s eyebrows, it makes a difference on how attractive I think her face is. When we look at someone’s face what makes it attractive? Most of us don’t think about it (women probably do more cause of make-up) but all the little features that make up a face count whether we know it or not. So while I didn’t know I thought girls eye brows or high cheek bones made her pretty, I knew what faces were pretty.
Knowing the truth is a bit like knowing what are the features that make a face attractive but most of us just know what we like and will dismiss the individual aspects of minutia that make up a face. Some faces look mean! When I was younger I might have avoided said faces until I realized they had snobby looking noses but weren’t actually snobs!
I think I’m truly one of the most honest people alive. Not because I always tell the truth but because I spend far too much time trying to figure out what the truth is. Honesty requires time, reflection, nuance and subtlety determining first that which is true.
The first step to be an honest person is to question why you think what you think. Often times you will find that you just think what makes you feel better about yourself or is socially acceptable. The truth is far more darker and colder than that but it remains a requirement for being honest.
You have to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance that is on display within your mind on a daily basis. To flesh out these inconsistencies and ask why. You’ll never get to the finish line, you won’t suddenly get to the ultimate truth, because there is no ultimate truth, but you will get a lot close to the peak of the never ending pyramid.
For example, are you a racist or sexist? Most of you will say no but you’re lying. I know I’m a racist and sexist for example. Of course, I don’t think discriminating based on race or gender is acceptable, nor do I have any hatred for any one group of people. Not at all. But I can think of a couple of examples where I was a racist and sexist and I only got to acknowledging it by constantly questioning what most other accept.
I remember once I was somewhere, I don’t remember where, and I was trying to get to a street that would properly center me to get to where I was going. I’m walking to the exit of the building with glass doors and I think, “I’m just going to ask the first person where x street is.” As I opened the second set of doors, before I ever saw anyone the words were already seeming coming out of my mouth and I look up and about 5 meters away is a young black male. I hesitated! And looked past him for a moment looking for someone else to ask until I snapped out of it and forced myself to ask him. I swear, I think I made him nervous, like “why is this white boy stopping me!” But he politely pointed me in the right direction and I was on my way.
I was surprised at myself and I wondered why I hesitated. That’s the kind of introspection that is required for honesty, otherwise you’ll answer, “no, I’m not a racist,” when actually, you are! I spent a lot of time thinking about that encounter and I realized that I felt most comfortable asking directions from older women, so it wasn’t just a black thing. I just tend to see women as kinder, and I prefer older women because a younger woman might assume I’m hitting on her and that just makes me anxious.
I was sexist at my most recent job too. I had a female manager. The girl seemed to work 18 hour days. I would joke with her somewhat regularly that she needed to stop working so hard. Seems polite and friendly, doesn’t it? Until one day I got to thinking, would I joke the same way with a male manager, and I don’t think I would have. Why? Because on some level I 1) valued her work-life balance more than I would a man and 2) felt comfortable in undermining her own career ambitions! Am I sexist now? I mean I didn’t mean to be. And in this example my sexism was in some ways a positive expression of concern for a coworker, but nonetheless my actions and responses were gendered.
If you asked me if I was sexist or racist, I would say honestly no, but some of my behaviour seems to suggest that’s not completely true, nor do I think it’s true of anyone.
The truth starts with our own hearts and minds, by callously checking why you do and believe what you do. Its only once you’ve done that, that you can ever claim to be honest.