“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.
My father-in-law used to say: “Every liar is a thief and every thief is a liar.” And he mistrusted both. He could well have been the originator of the Maya Angelou quote: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” He watched people’s actions, and then reminded them that he had observed them in those moments when integrity was lacking. He was a wise, self-educated man; one of his nicknames was ‘Radio’ because he did not keep his opinions to himself, nor did he sneak up on you.
Of course, logic would tell us that his quote about liars and thieves is not necessarily true. Perhaps you can be a liar without being a thief. I think it was the Cheshire Cat who gave us the example that explained how one thing does not necessarily lead to another: “You might as well say ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as saying ‘I sleep when I breathe’” but my father-in-law was not interested in logic and corollaries. He had a rule of thumb and he applied it. There was nothing worse to him than a child who lied. For obviously then he could infer that the child would also steal. And that he would not abide.
There is probably a point in any child’s life when it seems to be safer to lie than tell the truth. Obviously if you do something wrong and acknowledge it you will get punished. But if you don’t admit to it (i.e. lie), then it is as if you didn’t do it. Voila! And depending on how much attention your parent is paying, or how many siblings you have, perhaps the truth will never be uncovered. That first time you get away with it is the positive reinforcement that this is a winning strategy. Of course, we all know that parents are much smarter than kids, and eventually the truth will out, and the punishment will be the worse for the fact that we lied to cover it up. But for some children, the lie becomes the go-to strategy, it almost becomes instinctive, lying when it is not even necessary.
But there is another factor about being deceitful, it is so difficult to maintain. Especially if the lie requires additional fabrication to conceal the act. Or if there are witnesses who can contradict you. And beneath all that is your conscience, that moral voice that annoyingly keeps track of your actions, and loudly reminds you of the difference between right and wrong. It often is only silenced by a full confession, that act which selfishly relieves you of the burden of your lies, while possibly hurting the other party. Picture a spouse confessing an act of infidelity from early in the marriage. The confessor then self-absolves, while the spouse is left to replay their life together, reliving countless episodes, left wondering how many other lies have played out. For some it may be a relief. For years they may have been accused of being crazy, jealous, suspicious when their instincts were right all along.
But the act of telling the truth, of admitting to lies and deceptions, returns power to the one lied to. They can accept, forgive and move on, or decide the lie they have both been living is unbearable, and that they deserve more. Complete honesty represents respect and true partnership. Love me as I am, and this is how I am.
More than two decades ago the country had to watch a married couple’s private life and infidelity play out in public, in a painful way. A president abused his marriage vows, and some also said, his oath of office, by having an inappropriate sexual relationship with an intern. And then he lied about it. Whatever else he may have been guilty of along the way, this became the fulcrum of the impeachment process. And what was most notable about the process (and most notably absent from the present one) was an admission of guilt by the President, and condemnation by politicians of both parties.
The Christmas season is upon us. It is a time when you can threaten your children into their best behavior, using bribery and coercion. The fact that there is a Santa Claus who apparently knows who’s been naughty and nice, or in some cases a creepy elf who snitches (definitely a Deep State spy) helps to keep those kids on the straight and narrow. But tis also the Impeachment Season here in the USA.
I believe it was Harry Truman who immortalized the phrase: ‘The buck stops here’ in a sign on his desk in the oval office. He recognized the fact that the person at the top is responsible for the actions of those below him, and that ultimately he is the one who must own it and pay the price. Fast forward to the present time when we have a President who sees no bucks, knows no bucks, would not recognize a buck even if shown in a picture surrounded by them. He embodies the worst of what my father-in-law feared.
It has been my experience that the ones to fear are not the ones who lie to you, it is the ones who are able to lie to themselves and appear to believe their own lies. How can you call on a man’s conscience when it appears he has none? How can the country heal and move forward when our representatives appear to be deaf and blind to the plain truth, to the facts? Healing begins with acknowledgment of a problem. The treatment plan may require drastic, painful amputation.
Thankfully, in our own circles we can practice kindness, honesty, patience and compassion. We can hope that small acts replicated by millions may cause a tsunami somewhere across the planet. We cannot be discouraged by the example at the top. We must continue to try to make a difference in our small corner. And hold on to the reminder from MLK Jr – ‘The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! May your Christmas be filled with love, peace and good food, and may your kids and grandkids feel the joy and magic of this special time of year.