Lies of Every Color
The Opposite of Lies.
Many years ago, I was in a 12-step program for bulimia and compulsive overeating. Step nine was to make amends for wrongdoings from my past, so I went to the Whole Foods where I had been stealing from the bulk bins for years. I asked for the manager and TIM, as was written on his name badge, appeared with a friendly small-toothed smile and thinning, blond hair. I was terrified of TIM. I wiped my slick palms on my pants as I told him that I was making amends for a 12-step program and that I needed to come clean about having eaten a ton of food from his bulk bin without paying. He nodded, taking in my words with an impressive amount of focus for standing in the middle of his busy store.
"You know," he said, "you're allowed to sample the bulk food."
He was trying to let me off the hook and I appreciated the gesture, but I had to be accountable this time. I told him I was truly sorry and handed him a $20 bill. He tried to give it back but I refused, so he put it into his pocket with a sigh that acknowledged it was what I needed him to do.
"It won't happen again," I said. I can't remember if I reached out to shake his hand, or hugged him or just waved a sort-of curtsy good-bye.
While in the throws of my disordered eating, I was a hoarder of tiny lies—to myself and others. My addiction counted on that, because I would then need to use food (and other things) to reckon with the fact that I always felt like a flawed human being. It would would take me a few more years to really find recovery (and not through a 12-step program). But, being forced to start paying attention to how I lied (and hid, stuffed, and stockpiled food and feelings like a little chipmunk) and how that affected who I was in the world, most certainly set me off on a very different trajectory.
I didn't start telling the truth because I suddenly cared to adhere to social standards of decency. I started telling the truth to save my soul.
And as I walked out of those sliding glass doors at Whole Foods, it felt as if I had shed my first layer of heavy, expired skin. The sun was touching certain parts of me for the very first time.
A Child's Lies.
This morning, four-year-old Ruth emerged from the bathroom like a ball from a cannon, and announced, "I just pooped on the potty!"
My mother, who is visiting from Ohio and not yet privy to Ruth's bathroom affairs, hollered with glee. Then, I emerged behind Ruth with a slow shake of the head to convey that, no, Ruth had indeed NOT pooped on the potty. What she had done was put a few cheerios in the toilet bowl and call it pooping.
"She lies," Opal said, annoyed.
And she does lie. Frequently and with the conviction of Harold and his purple crayon, drawing his own reality from scratch with every step.
There are a number of totally sane reasons why all kids sometimes lie. According to an article on NPR, lying reflects an important milestone in cognitive development. When children start to lie, it means they understand that other people have different beliefs than they do, and that people's beliefs do not directly reflect reality.
Simply put, kids start to realize that our beliefs shape our reality. Ruth would have never tried to pull a fast one on Jesse, Opal or myself. But my mom from Ohio, Amma, had no reason not to believe what Ruth had to say.
The NPR article goes on to say, "Being able to guess what someone else is thinking and know how to influence someone else's beliefs are at the root of deception, but of effective communication and social interaction as well."
But Opal isn't interested in all that.
“Ruth,” she says, exasperated, “saying something over and over doesn’t make it true.”
The President’s Lies.
“It’s as if he thinks saying something enough times will make it true,” Jesse said from the couch as he watched a video of President Trump on his laptop.
Nearly a week ago, Trump was diagnosed with COVID, along with countless other people in his circle who all refused, by his example, to take precautions. The video Jesse was watching was filmed after he returned to the White House from the hospital, mask-free while still contagious, exposing hundreds in his path. Trump claimed credit for engineering his own cure by requesting the antibody therapy, which is still in trials and unavailable except on a very limited basis. “This was a blessing in disguise. I caught it. I heard about this drug. I said, ‘Let me take it.’ It was my suggestion."
According to Mother Jones, before Trump contracted COVID, he "downplayed the coronavirus (comparing it to the flu), he pronounced it was under control (it wasn’t), he said it would miraculously disappear with warmer weather (it didn’t), he promoted unproven and crackpot remedies (bleach, light, and hydroxychloroquine), he denigrated the most basic means to stop the spread (mask-wearing), and he refused to encourage safe practices (holding rallies with thousands of unmasked supporters)."
The Colors of Lies.
Apparently lies come in different colors.
Of course, I know some lies are white—baby lies that are meant to protect the feelings of others. (No, yes,—I LOVE the sweater you knitted for me!) But until recently, I hadn't heard of the other two: A black lie is a lie that is told for personal gain, villainous and pure, without false niceties or pretenses. A blue lie is a psychologist’s term for falsehoods told on behalf of a group, that can actually strengthen bonds among the members of that group.
An article in Scientific American spoke directly to the distinction of what kinds of lies are being told from the White House: "If we see Trump’s lies not as failures of character but rather as weapons of war, then we can come to see why his supporters might view him as an effective leader. From this perspective, lying is a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s campaign and presidency."
The article went on: "For millions and millions of Americans, climate change is a hoax. Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor and immigrants cause crime. Whether they truly believe those falsehoods or not is debatable—and possibly irrelevant. The research to date suggests that they see those lies as useful weapons in a tribal us-against-them competition that pits the “real America” against those who would destroy it."
Possibly irrelevant? Real America against those who would destroy it? Mercy.
What are we teaching our kids?
Newsflash: the kids of today will eventually grow up to be our future society. What they learn now about the power of their words and the impact of their choices informs everything about their future. Our future.
According to Psychology Today, when a child is told that their truth is a lie, their self-doubt generalizes to the point where they distrust the outside world. What happens when the people of an entire culture are told again and again that their truth is a lie by the man who stands in charge?
(The Washington Post fact-checkers have chronicled over 20,000 false statements and lies from Trump since he stepped into the White House.)
I am well aware that all presidents have lied in one way or another. I certainly have not agreed with every decision made by presidents of the past, but I've always had the notion as I went to bed each night, as I tucked my kids into bed each night, that our presidents have had our best interests—as individuals of a nation—in mind.
With the current president, more often than not, I find myself lying down for bed with knots in my stomach as I mentally go over the chaos in the news. I often feel as if he is aiming for the distrust of his own people.
And yet, 40% of Americans still support him.
I can't help but to wonder what these Americans were taught about honesty as children. If lying in bed and drifting off to sleep in a mar of uncertainty and doubt about what tomorrow will bring feels normal to them? A heartbreaking thought.
Opal turns eleven in a few weeks and she'll be having a low-caliber COVID-era party, like so many other young kids (and grown-ups) have had over the last seven months. Halloween is right around the corner, too. We won't be trick-or-treating but we will most certainly dress up and party in some safe capacity. Ruth will be Poppy the troll and Opal wants to be RBG. I plan to force Jesse into some embarrassing costume-combo that I have yet to confirm. We'll miss Opal's last Halloween parade at her elementary and Ruth will wish she could dress up with any one of her preschool or neighbor friends. But she can't. Because COVID is still a big deal and we are choosing to continue to take precautions.
But we'll use our vim and creativity to make magic in this weird new world system. And we'll be sure to go to bed on Halloween, after having removed our costumes, with a clear understanding of the difference between real and pretend.