Dishonesty is rampant in our lives, however lying to ourselves is a far more dangerous pursuit. But what to do when you catch yourself out?
Most human cultures throughout history have frowned upon dishonesty. When a person is expected to uphold a certain degree of conduct in exchange for civilised life and the benefits it brings, lying prevents others from trusting them and thus must be discouraged. This is just as true today as it’s ever been, despite our values being significantly less strict than most societies before us. Most people know not to lie in court, on job applications, or in conversations with loved ones, but what about the more covert forms of dishonesty?
How often do you tell yourself fantasies about reality rather than looking at it for what it is?
How often do you make assumptions about other people that turn out later to be patently false?
How often do you pretend to act like someone you’re not to forget who you really are?
How often do you pretend to be nice just to be accepted by others?
How long have you put up with things you know could be better but haven’t the confidence to try to change?
There are a few more examples but I’ll let you mull it over yourself. They mostly come down to the somewhat philosophical quandary of “what is a lie?” The simple answer for me is anything that one says or thinks despite knowing it to be untrue! It’s easy enough to know when you are lying to yourself or others, and yet people do it constantly. We do it when we think it won’t harm anyone, and yet over time the little lies of courtesy and “fitting in” turn us into people we despise. We crave comfort over truth. This is the same reason people cling to narrow-minded political value systems like Liberalism or Conservatism and ignore what falls outside their purview. True awareness has no label and is full of infinite nuance; when we confine ourselves to one reality tunnel, we miss out on life’s most interesting facets.
For most of my life I was taught to be polite and disarming at all costs. At a certain point, I realised that I had put “being nice” over “being honest” in my day-to-day interactions, my politics and my spiritual experience. After college, I realised I had amassed dozens of “friends” whom I had nothing in common with other than a desire to be accepted and acknowledged as “good”. As I started maturing into adulthood, I realised I had no desire to cultivate lifelong relationships with more than a few of these people. Fake niceness leads to fake friends and a fake personality. We often need the experience of fakeness to recognise authenticity.
Living in a fantasy world is only pleasant to the extent that it isn’t reality; as soon as we step back into reality we have to cope with it, so we might as well do this right now.
Over the past few years, I have aimed to be more authentic. In my writings, I’ve erred on the side of “bitter but transformative pill”, not sugarcoating what I’ve learned from Zen practice in optimistic hippiespeak. In my conversations, I’ve (through much initial awkwardness) learned to say what I truly feel. Sometimes I insult people and sometimes I cast people away, but most of the time I end up having remarkably interesting conversations and strengthening relationships with people who truly care about their own lives. And who said an insult never helped anyone? I’ve come to many of my most important realisations about myself after someone has made fun of me or insulted me; usually, they’re right! We should turn the gaze we use to judge others for ourselves, not judging too harshly but instead being honest with ourselves both about how we excel and where we fall short. Most importantly, we should make peace with whatever we find. This is the essence of meditation. Living in a fantasy world is only pleasant to the extent that it isn’t reality; as soon as we step back into reality we have to cope with it, so we might as well do this right now.
When we filter ourselves through the lens of polite dishonestly, we prevent true communication with others. When we let go of our fakeness and can communicate honestly, we encourage others to do the same. On a personal level, this can completely transform the way you interact with yourself and the world. You will be more sceptical of what you believe and less fearful of the repercussions of being truly honest. Spirituality is for truth-seekers, not people who wish to escape reality. If we do the work to uncover what’s really there, we find something profound and magnificent. It’s only scary if we lie to ourselves about our own significance.