A couple of evenings ago, I was waiting at the university tram stop on my way home from seeing a friend. A very drunk man asked me if I had a cigarette. Like the other passengers that he'd asked, I had no tobacco to give him. He started to talk to me, asking questions as he swayed a little too close for comfort. He wanted to know my name, if I was married, where I was going, how long the tram would be.
The answer to the latter was clearly visible on the destination board above us: five minutes. As for the rest, I unexpectedly found myself telling him lies. Simple factual lies. I said my name was Alison, that I was going to the end of the route, that I'd been married for fifteen years. As the answers came out of my mouth, the feeling that I had little choice but to reluctantly engage with him quickly dissipated. I no longer felt intruded upon; I was free, protected. Under duress, I'd given away nothing of the real me. We shook hands, and he was gone.
By the time I got home, the feeling of liberation had grown. I was amused, joyous even. It had been fun to tell lies, to be someone else with a different story, even for a few minutes. I'd never before tinkered with the basic, immutable facts of my story, like name, age, or occupation. A couple of times, I'd told men that I was married in an attempt to ward off their unwanted advances, but that was about as far as my lying had gone.
Like most of us, I was brought up to believe that telling lies is bad, and that honesty is a Good Thing, definitely the best policy. Well, unless someone's feelings might be hurt by the truth-telling, in which case it is permissible to tell a white lie...unless you're in a relationship or you're family, in which case even if their feelings are hurt, it's really important to be honest and to express how you feel...unless you really don't feel ready, willing or able to deal with their reaction, in which case... It turns out, of course, that all of us have a much more complex relationship with honesty than we'd like to admit.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the emotional realm. I love you may mean exactly that, or it may mean I'm scared to be on my own, so please don't leave me. I'm really angry with you may hide a deeper truth, such as I'm really disappointed with myself. I'm well aware that there have been many times in relationships when fear, shame, confusion, anger or cowardice have prevented me from being honest about my true feelings.
We consistently tell lies not just to others, but to ourselves. All the beliefs that we have about ourselves and the world, whether they come from early conditioning or our culture, are often deeply embedded and may remain unquestioned for years. I need to be clever or people will reject me. I'm no good at art. People shouldn't be violent towards each other. Whatever our beliefs are, they keep us stuck, preventing us from moving towards the deeper truth of who we are.
As we inquire into what is true for us in any given moment, we begin to see that there is ultimately no fixed truth to be found within our stories. We are freed from the beliefs that we have held to be true for so long. We see through the notion of objective truth, and hold our own versions of the truth a little more lightly.
So Lee, wherever you are, thank you for showing me that lying can be liberating. And I hope you finally got that cigarette.