“Who are you? Who Who?? Who Who???” —Pete Townshend of The Who.
Has anyone ever lied to you? We’re talking white lies here that don’t harm anyone. We’re talking lies that don’t affect lives that could be deemed meaningless, until they begin to pile up. When such lies begin to pile up, we feel compelled to set the record straight, and we gather friends to corroborate the truth, as we know it to be? We then receive that look, the look that informs us that they’re shocked at the details we’ve gathered that have compiled. Your purpose was confront the liar after their lying reached a point where you could no longer tolerate it, but at some point you realize that they weren’t lying, and this is made all the more evident when the confrontation is over, and they continue to lie.
I was flabbergasted to learn that most people are not lying when they reveal an untruth. They may have been exaggerating a truth to cast themselves in the best light possible, but it was not their intent to deceive anyone. At some point, before they said a word about the event in question, they created a truth that they believed. What’s the difference? I didn’t think there was one, until I began delving into the psychology of “misremembering” that some psychologists equate to the problems inherent in eye-witness testimony. The product of this research is this collection of narrative essays in which I dissect the varying worlds of comfort that arise from those that seek comfort in a world of truth, those that seek comfort in a world of delusions, and the confusion that can arise.
We are complicated creatures, and if you are one prone to the poetic majesty of individual characteristics, you may find the blather involving the unique characteristics of the snowflake and the human applies here.
Some of us believe that we adapt to the people around us in a manner that causes those people, and all of their respective groups, to think that we belong, and some of the times this is true. When all of those conversations come to a close during the last call of our day, and we get into our cars, go home, and lay down in bed, we find that we have a very narrow definition. Some find this narrow definition comforting and genuine, but others find it depressing.
Those that find it depressing tend to be frustrated individuals that thought they were meant for so much more. When they were kids, and teens, and twenty-somethings, they thought the world was their oyster. When the world landed on that oyster, crushing it to smithereens before their very eyes, they were devastated. They did walk away from the devastation, they survived, but they were diminished by it. This diminished view of the world defined them going forward, but they would adapt and moved forward with a narrowing of their character in the aftermath.
This new, narrowed definition of the survivors, is made up of the actual people, places, and events that they have experienced. It is not based on how we all wish we had reacted, but how we reacted. It is not based on that person we always wanted to be, who we tell people we are, or how we perceive ourselves, but who we are.
Most of wish that we had done some things different. We wish we had studied harder, loved more women, focused more on the matters we could have been more substantial in, had more friends, experienced a little bit more, and some now wish they had some sort of military service for the structure it may have provided them. Some of us wish that we had eaten healthier, worked out more, and led a healthier life.
As we age, and reflect back, we realize that our lives can be broken down into character-defining moments, and we’re led to the belief that how we reacted in those moments define us now, for better or worse.
Most of us also ache over seminal moments, and some of us believe that the desire we now have to do those things different has shaped us. We believe that we have learned from those experiences, and that that knowledge will shape the next seminal moment that happens. Until we rectify those moments, however, the reality of who we are is shaped by them.
Most of us don’t care for the new narrowed definition of our reality, so we’ve come up with a number of definitions that suit us better. This is our mythology, and if we have enough belief in it, we might be able to sell it to others so often that we begin to believe it.
You are who you believe you are on many levels, and this can change depending on who you’re with. If you’re with your drinking buddy, you can be one guy; if you’re with your wife, you’re another guy; and if you’re with your parents or your kids, you’re another guy altogether. You’re a different person at work than you are at home, at a family reunion, at the bar, or at the company picnic. With so many identities swimming around in your head, it can be tough to keep track of who you are. Who Who? Who Who??”
The Protons and Neutrons
To make this complex algorithm understandable, let’s put the discussion to a visual display, the model of the atom. The protons and the neutrons, in this model represent the reality of who we are. The protons and the neutrons are the actual positive and negative events that have occurred in our lives, and how we reacted to them. This is a very limited, and limiting, definition of who we are, and we’re often so unhappy with our reality that we would rather not focus on it. We’ve all made mistakes, and those mistakes have shaped us, but most of have maintained a certain degree of mental health by focusing on the orbital region that exists outside the nucleus.
In the orbital regions that exist outside the nucleus are the mythologies we have of who we are. This orbital region contains electrons that are the ideas we have about who we could be. They are the lies we tell ourselves and others, the illusions and delusions we have of ourselves, and the potential we believe we have to accomplish great things. Every electron in this region perpetuates this mythology. The lies we tell ourselves are not whoppers, for we would have as much trouble buying into those lies as anyone else. These lies we tell ourselves often have a semblance of truth to them, and we connect the dots after that. The lies can be negative, if we’re seeking sympathy, but they’re often positive electrons that we use to shape how others view us, and how we hope to be viewed.
These lies we tell ourselves may be unconscious measures that are employed to stave off the depression that we may fall into if we allowed the protons and neutrons of our reality to overwhelm us. The unconscious measures we use can be interpretations of misdeeds that we employ to maintain the idea that we are good people regardless what we’ve done. Walk through any penitentiary, and you’ll hear a number of qualifiers and excuses for the things these men have done. Are these people lying? In the truest sense of the word?? Ninety percent of them may be, but that is the obvious answer. The less than obvious answer goes to the heart of the matter. Why would a criminal convicted of a heinous deed, as a result of an airtight case brought forth by the state, feel the need to inform you that there were extenuating circumstances regarding their crime? They may want you to believe they’re not bad people, but conscience laden, non-psychopaths, need to believe this for the modicum of mental health that helps them avoid becoming so depressed by the facts of what they’ve done.
Among the most pervasive electrons floating around in our orbital region is the one that holds the beliefs we have in our own potential. There’s nothing wrong with believing we have potential, of course, until that belief supersedes our desire to do anything about it. For some, the belief in their potential is the reason they wake up in the morning with a smile, ready to greet a new day, and they don’t want to diminish that belief in anyway, and acting on that belief may reveal that belief for all that it is, or isn’t. This is their mythology.
Most of us are pretty honest with whom we are, but we do cheat. When we go out on a first date, or a business luncheon, we may tip a service industry worker a little more than we would have if we were alone. It’s a white lie, that doesn’t harm anyone, and it may bolster perception, but is it possible that we’re making an investment in our mythology for others to see, and if we do it often enough, it becomes true on a certain level. If we lay that tip on the table, to paraphrase Babe Ruth, it ain’t lying. We done it. It’s only a lie, if you don’t believe it. If you believe it, it can be an investment in your mythology.
Celebrities are almost forced to engage in this lie whenever they go out. Their mythologies have been bought and paid for by those who stand to prosper from it, but no one stands to prosper more from a positive mythology than the celebrity themselves, so their tips are often extravagant enough to make an impression. An inadequate tip could do damage to the mythology they’ve worked so hard to create after all, and if the mythology is real, who’s to say the perception isn’t? This is often the case if the celebrity is perceived to be a good guy. One bad tip in a restaurant, in Omaha, Nebraska can now get around the nation in a matter of moment, and that celebrity could risk a lot of the good guy points he’s built up over the years.
Some of us begin to cheat by building mythologies so often that we can no longer see through the cloud we’ve created, and when this happens we may need professional psychiatric, or psychological, help when something goes wrong. We’ve cheated so often, and created so many mythologies, that we can’t achieve enough objectivity to see our way through a problem. We need to pay someone to let us talk about our past. We need someone cold-hearted to stop us in the middle of our tale and say that some of the things we’ve discussed are not true. We may be shocked by their cold-hearted nature, but if we strive for mental health, we’ll drop the façade and work from the new premise. We’ll recognize that those around us have allowed us to live certain lies, because they don’t want to be so cold-hearted. We’ll also recognize that these professionals are doing their best to help us achieve some sort of clarification about who we are and why we do the things we do. We can’t do this ourselves anymore, because we’ve loaded our minds are loaded with such positive clutter that we can’t see through to the truth of our existence anymore. We thought we were somewhat happy, yet we were also very unhappy, and we’re left with a feeling that life isn’t as fulfilling as it was when we thought we had it all figured out.
Publicity and Charity
“I live every day trying to convince others of the lies I tell them,” a friend of mine said in jest. One of the primary lies we tell ourselves is that we’re wonderful people, and we’ll take any and every opportunity to prove it. A wonderful person, as defined in sardonic terms, is someone that does things to be perceived as wonderful, as opposed to one that does wonderful things. There’s a huge difference between publicity and charity in other words, and wonderful people do things for the publicity it gains them rather than the charity it provides others.
“You’re doing this for yourself,” a sick man, lying on a death bed, says to a female that is caressing his hands and whispering sweet nothings to him. It’s a crass and heartless statement from a man who should enjoy any comfort he receives from another in the waning moments of his life. Was it charity she sought to provide the sick man, or was she seeking greater definition of her character by sitting next to him. What would she do in the moments that followed his death? Would she tell people about it, or was this indeed a selfless act by a woman that sought to provide the man some degree of comfort? Who cares, some would say, as long as she did it.
We have wonderful memories of our school days. We remember running and playing on the playground. We remember some of the studying we did, and some of the questions we answered in class, but for the most part we choose to remember the fun we had, and some of the aspects that led to our current maturity in life. Those aren’t the sole memories he have, of course. If we dig way back, with professional assistance, we may learn that those days weren’t as great as we remember them, but our selective memory has made us who we are today, so why would we bother with all of those awful memories if we don’t have to?
“I had a wonderful childhood, which is tough because it’s hard to adjust to a miserable adulthood.” –Larry David
As we age, we experience the lot life has to offer us, and after a while we begin to think we have a pretty, pretty, pretty decent grasp on who we are based on those experiences. The question is which events do we call upon when seeking definition, and how do we define those selections, and what do those selections say about us? Most studies state that for our mental well-being, we often choose positive life experiences to define who we are. If we do stumble upon a negative experience, we’ll find a way to doctor that memory in a manner to make us appear better than we may have been otherwise. We’ll also qualify that negative experience in a manner that excuses us from the worst part of our involvement in those instances. It is a natural thing to do, and it’s what a majority of us do, but it also means that we have less of a grasp on the reality of who we are and more of a grasp on the mythology we’ve created.