“Who are you? Who Who? Who Who?” –Pete Townshend of The Who.
Has anyone ever told you a lie? Have you ever told a lie? When we lie, most of us don’t tell whoppers. We fib. We exaggerate. We tell meaningless lies that don’t harm anyone, but lies are lies, and they have a way of piling up. When the lies of other begin to pile up, we feel compelled to confront them and set the record straight, and we gather other friends to corroborate the truth, as we know it. We then receive a look from the liar that informs us that they’re shocked at the details we’ve gathered. Our purpose was to confront the liar after their lying reached a point where we could no longer tolerate it, but at some point it dawned on us that they didn’t intend to lie, and this is made all the more evident when the confrontation is over, and they continue to lie, fib, and exaggerate.
Why do we lie is a question I asked myself, especially when some of the lies are so obvious and easy to refute. When someone tells me an obvious lie, I feel trapped. Should I out them on the spot, thus informing them that they shouldn’t try this anymore, or will I feel worse than they should for telling the lie. Some lie so often that I can’t help but think they’re trying to make me feel guilty for knowing the truth.
My personal research, conducted through extensive reading on this fascinating subject, coupled with revelatory, related experiences, has led me to believe that most liars are not intentionally deceiving their audience. They may have been exaggerating a truth to cast themselves in the best light possible, but their intent was to create a better result for themselves. Their intent was not to deceive anyone. At some point, between the event in question and their exaggerated account of what happened , 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 eyewitness testimony.
We all seek comfort in a world of truth, but we also manufacture a world of delusions for greater comfort. The difference between the two causes equal confusion for both parties.
Most of us don’t care for our narrow definition of 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 too.
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 contain the positive and negative experiences we’ve had and the “in the moment” reactions to those experiences. 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 us maintain 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 are and who we could be. The electrons are 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. The 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 others view us.
The lies we tell ourselves may be unconscious measures employed to stave off the depression that we might 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 and women have done. Are the inmates 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 what we might consider a more comprehensive explanation. If the state convicted this criminal with an airtight case, why would they continue to lie to the person who can recite the numerous elements of their conviction? They might want you to believe they’re not bad people, but it’s far more important to them that they convince themselves of their virtues. If they are unable to do so, their guilt might lead them to think that their life is not worth living.
Among the most pervasive electrons we have, floating around in our orbital region, contain 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, but acting on that belief might result in failure and a comprehensive diminishment of one’s belief in themselves. Acting on that belief may also reveal to others that we’re not as capable as we once thought. To thwart that we enjoy reveling in the mythology we create for ourselves.
Most of us are 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 our 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 we don’t believe it. If we believe it, it can be an investment in our mythology.
Our culture forces celebrities to engage in this lie whenever they go out. Those who stand to prosper from the mythologies of the celebrity encourage them to lay a huge tip on a table, but no one stands to prosper more from a positive mythology than the celebrity does, 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?
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 details we’ve added are not true. Their cold-hearted nature might shock us, 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 enabled 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 what we do. We can’t work through this cloud ourselves anymore, because we’ve loaded our minds 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 were 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 is someone who does things for the sole purpose of attaining a wonderful perception, as opposed to one who actually does wonderful things. A wonderful person might perform certain actions for the publicity it gains them, but truly wonderful people do what they do to help others.
“You’re doing this for yourself,” a sick man, lying on a deathbed, says to a female that is caressing his hands and whispering sweet nothings to him. This crass and heartless man should enjoy the comfort the woman provides, but the greater question is was he calling her out for being a wonderful person as opposed to one who did a wonderful thing? What will she do in the moments that follow his death? Will she tell people about it, or was this a truly selfless act by the woman. 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 weren’t the only events that occurred in our lives, of course. If we dig 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 do we bother with all of those awful memories?
“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, and after a while we begin to think we have a decent grasp on who we are based on those experiences. When we select those character-defining moments in our lives, however, which memories are we selecting? Are we selecting protons and neutrons, or electron memories, and what do those selections end up saying about us? Most studies state that for our mental well-being, we often choose positive life experiences to define who we are. If we stumble upon a negative experience, as noted, we find a way to rewrite that memory in a manner to make us appear better than we might have otherwise been in that particular situation. We’ll also qualify that negative experience in a manner that excuses us from the worst part of our involvement in those instances. The memory selection, coupled with harmless delusions that accompany them, form the mythology of who we are, but what if, to paraphrase my friend, we live every day trying to convince others of the lies we tell them that we end up convincing ourselves of these lies, and what if this effort results in us becoming better people? Would it matter if we based this eventuality on a big lie, or a series of meaningless, little delusions? I believe wholeheartedly in the philosophical axiom “Know Thyself”, and I pride myself on being as brutally honest with myself as I can possibly be, but I know that doesn’t work for everyone. The natural reaction one could have to those that live a life diametrically opposed to that effort is, “Who cares how or why they got there they’re living a lie.” That might be true in some cases, relative to the scale of the lies, but what kind of person would they be if they strove to live a more honest life?