Universal Rules: Always Tell the Truth, as You Know It. Alter Your Language so Others May Hear Your Truth.
This week's article dovetails with last week's. One of the main points I made last week was that we benefit from being aware of how we say what we say. In other words, our motivation – the selection of our words – determines the effect of what we say.
This concept will link perfectly with the second sentence of "Rule" 17, above. We'll get there, after we have a look at telling the truth.
One of the lead stories in the Toronto Star today (Wednesday) contained excerpts from Hillary Clinton's soon to be released autobiography, Living History. Being the prurient sort that we in the West tend to be, the focus of the article was Hillary's dealing with Bill's peccadilloes with Monica. Hillary writes that Bill lied about the "depth" (god, I'm having trouble not running out and measuring the length of a cigar…J ) of his involvement with Monica. The lie went on for some months, and it was only when Bill was due to testify that he decided to come clean with Hillary.
His logic, such as it was, was, "I was trying to protect you and Chelsea."
One wants to ask, "So, how'd that work out for you, Bill?"
Lying starts in childhood. It starts when kids discover that there are parental-enforced-consequences to their behaviour. Being devious sorts, we all went through a phase of thinking, much like Bill, "what they don't know won't hurt them." In a sense, then, lying to others begins with this first, biggest lie.
In order to lie to another, I first have to lie to myself.
For children, the "self-lie" is: "If I lie, I'll get away with this." For adults, the "self-lie" is: "He'll only hurt himself if I tell the truth, so I'm lying to make it easier on him. Besides, I'm an adult, and some stuff should just be kept private!"
The cosmic joke in all of this is two-fold:
- we mostly get caught in our lies, and
- even if we don't, lying damages the relationship.
I once worked with a highly dysfunctional teen. She described the lying process thusly: "I decided that I'd never tell my parents the truth. So, I lie, and then I lie about lying, and I keep doing it until I can't remember the lies, and then I get caught, and I cry and say I'll never do it again, which, of course, is the first lie in the next series." And she said all of this with a straight face and a slight smile.
If you've ever had the pleasure of watching the excellent videos of Ben & Jock doing the Relationships weekend, you might remember, toward the end, that they start a discussion of what they call "lines in the sand." A line in the sand can be expressed: "If you do (insert behaviour) I'll leave you."
Now, many people have not actually sat down and discussed their line(s) in the sand. If they did, they'd likely discover that there are a ton of them, and that they are being dreamed up as the couple goes along. "If you look at another (wo)man, I'll leave you." "If you yell at me one more time, I'll leave you." I could keep going, but I'm sure you can do the job for me.
First of all, multiple, changing lines in the sand are stupid and immature.
They are the adult equivalent of the six-year-old having a fit, stamping his feet and screaming, "I hate you! I'm running away from home!" Secondly, if you are just threatening and don't leave when something happens, you are lying. This makes the line in the sand an empty threat.
Anyway, the couples are tossing out examples of lines in the sand. Finally, Ben says something like (I don't have the tapes anymore, so I can't get the direct quote) "Our line in the sand is total honesty."
Dar and I looked at each other and said, "Wow! That's our line in the sand!"
I realize, from my side of that idea, that I would tolerate one direct lie from Dar, and would leave upon the second. I suspect that is also where Dar is at, from what she has told me.
In 20 years, neither of us has used up the first lie.
I want to make clear that there is no game playing in this "no lying" stance. There seems to be an "out" in the first sentence of today's "rule," Always Tell the Truth, as You Know It. One could argue that "I wasn't really lying. I just decided to tell part of it, and now I'm telling more." This is a false assumption.
Whole life begins when we stop lying to ourselves. In a sense, our "honesty policy" is not about the other person. I'm not choosing to be honest for Dar's sake. I'm being honest for my sake.
A wrong-headed logic would be to decide to tell the truth out of a fear of consequences. The decision to be honest comes from a place of integrity. People who seem to be enlightened or wise are often described as persons of integrity.
I know lots of business people who would never cheat a client or on a business deal, but rigorously cheat in their personal lives. Now, what I'm saying here is not a condemnation of extra-marital affairs, for example. I have no judgement at all about them. What I am saying is this. "Cheating is not being scrupulously honest about what you are doing." It's not a "cheating", nor lying, if I am doing something and being totally honest with my partner about what I am doing.
Do you begin to see how integrity and being honest with myself fits into this equation?
The reason we either lie, or don't tell our partner something (a lie by omission) is because we fear the consequences of the behaviour we are lying about. In other words, we are either doing something we have moral reservations about, or we think or know our partner will have moral reservations about.
The integrity piece is this: why would I choose to engage in an activity I haven't decided is, for me, at least morally neutral? And if I believe it to be at least morally neutral, why am I afraid to talk about it? The only real explanation is this: I'm feeling guilty.
"I don't owe anyone an explanation for my behaviour" is a cop out. Integrity also means "the willingness to stand up for what I believe."
Honesty, total honesty, is about revealing to my partner who I am today. In my own case, I want to let Dar know what's going through the minefield I call my head. I choose to share with her my thoughts, emotions, desires and especially what I choose to do. And my expectation is that she will do the same.
Here is where the "as you know it" part comes in. Sometimes, I change my mind. I may decide to do 'x' one day, and then go do it, and decide that the next time I'll do 'y.' As long as I'm keeping Dar totally in the loop, and letting her know my thinking on the topic, I am being inconsistent (I suppose) but certainly not lying. And if you think about it, the actual "truth" of such a situation would be, "I'm thinking several things about this, am not sure, and am trying out different behaviours, while keeping you informed."
Finally, what's included in the "honesty" pact? Everything.
Anytime you might think to exclude something, don't. Tell each other everything.
Now, quickly, to the second sentence. As I wrote last week, the goal of honesty is elegant communication. So, how we say what we say is also relevant, and totally under our control.
I don't remember what the disagreement was about, but one evening Dar and I were on about something, and I remember, clearly, annoying the hell out of myself. I remember thinking, "You know, I really am feeling cold and distant from Dar (Haven-speak.)" I knew that I could say that, in those words, and Dar would accept it as an honest statement of fact. Instead, my perverse side said, "She's got the audacity to argue with you! Make her hurt!" Now, knowing Dar for 20 years, I knew what to say. I looked her in the eyes, put a bit of snarliness in my voice, and said, "You know, I feel absolutely nothing for you right now."
My words had their intended effect. At least for a minute. Dar proceeded to hurt herself over my words, then had her first Vesuvius. She then said, "Nice try. I'm not going to continue to hurt myself over that."
Being honest, I said, "I made a decision to say that in a way you might hurt yourself over. I was looking to hurt, not communicate."
With this kind of dialogue, our disagreements have been short-lived.
The second sentence calls us to think about the intention of our words. If my intent is to blame or hurt, I want to be honest and say that. If my intent is to communicate, I'll speak in a way that will facilitate the listener actually hearing what I'm saying. Anything else is a game.
Honest communication and transparent honesty is the name of the game if I choose to live my life with integrity.
Lying, cheating and manipulating are the
of an infantile loser.
You pick. You choose.