We all lie. We lie to receive approval, to manipulate other people's opinion of us. How contradictory it is; we are taught as children that we must always tell the truth, that we shouldn't lie, yet society teaches us to lie "appropriately" - in order to avoid conflict, to be polite, to get what we want.
One example of our need to lie was perfectly exemplified many years ago when I first introduced my long term boyfriend to my family.
My parents had tried to disguise their shock; somewhere in the back of their minds they knew he was the same age as my father, but out of convenience it seemed they didn't quite fully register this information. Maxwell had of course been charming, handing my mother a ridiculously large vase filled with flowers and my father an even more ludicrously expensive bottle of wine.
My maternal grandmother, known affectionately as Nana, was instantly enamored, and after casting her eyes across his fingers, quietly valuing the diamonds and rubies that they bore, she whispered to me her trusty cliché: 'It is just as easy to love a rich man as a poor man'. She happily decided that my managing to lasso this one particular cowboy had been quite an achievement. My parents were not so easily seduced by Maxwell's charms, but remained polite and cordial as always. Even when Nana asked Maxwell his marital status and he answered 'separated' they did not let their faces show their true emotions.
"But you are getting a divorce, of course," Nana insisted.
"Of course," Maxwell replied.
"Good. We could not expect you to be single, given the age difference."
"Mother!" Martha exclaimed, mortified.
"Oh please, Martha, relax. I am not blind, and it is obvious that he is older. So tell me Maxwell, are you hard-working?"
"Very much so, ma'am."
"Any chance for an annulment?"
"Well, my soon to be ex-wife is a Protestant."
"Oh, then there shouldn't be any problems. And tell me, do you love our little girl?"
Nana smiled wide, like a Cheshire cat
"I think it is time to open that bottle of wine," the old lady said, triumphantly.
Everything went smoothly from there on until the meal was over, when Maxwell made one fatal mistake: he lit a cigarette at the dinner table. Unknown to him, Nana and my mother had an intense aversion to cigarettes. which in turn had transformed the rest of the family into closet smokers.
My father, my sister and I, and later my sister's husband, had developed a peculiar habit: at the end of a family meal, we would stand as a unit, announcing that we had to go to the bathroom. Upon removing ourselves from the dining room, we would race out to the backyard, light cigarettes, smoke frantically, pull out breath fresheners and aerosol sprays to remove all traces of smoke, and return innocently to the dining table. This strange behavior had been commonplace for so long that it had become second nature. We even tutted in appropriate disgust whenever people in restaurants had the audacity to smoke at a nearby table. I never knew if my highly intelligent grandmother and mother were really fooled by this charade, but they definitely did an excellent job of pretending that was the case.
So as soon as Maxwell had lit his Marlboro, the performance began. Nana and my mother threw themselves into frantic coughing fits and spontaneous watering of the eyes. They then proceeded to heave violently, as if their last breath was about to fail, while my father joined then with a more timid cough. Hastily kicking Maxwell from underneath the table, I grabbed his cigarette and stubbed it out in the coffee plate. The man finally understood what was happening and with his most dazzling smile apologized.
"It's a habit hard to break. But I make you a promise, Nana," he continued, looking the old lady straight in her eyes, "this ends here and now. Anything to make you happy." Nana sighed and peace returned to the table.
Lies are self-abandonment. They are a place where we avoid showing ourselves exactly as we are, and so ultimately they come from fear. Fear of being rejected, fear of feeling unloved. We put on social masks, presenting a false persona to the world, the person we think we should appear to be. Yet in doing so, we deny parts of ourselves which either become secret obsessions, or suppressed emotions resulting in resentment and disillusionment.
How often do we sacrifice sincerity in order to maintain appearances? We all prize honesty as such an important virtue, yet how often do we abandon it in order to avoid conflict or embarrassment? Our need for approval often wins over our commitment to being truthful, but choosing to maintain an apparent surface harmony at the price of self abandonment is a high price to pay. Everything we hide we eventually learn to ignore.
These behaviors soon become unconscious, and even self destructive habits are maintained in place, hidden from "public" view. If we feel the need to hide, it is because on some level we know that our actions are not based in love and growth. But it is by being honest with ourselves about the choices we make that we can really confront our situation, and from the place of clarity that truthfulness provides, begin to make new choices in our lives.
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