I’m not at ease with lies. Firstly, I’m not good at telling lies, not even the gentle ones meant to make others feel less offended, like feigning attention when what someone is saying is really not engaging me at all, or using a made-up excuse to cancel a date I’m not interested in. Saying or doing what rubs with what somewhere inside feels more true makes me nervous and gives me the fear of being caught red-handed right away. Secondly, I’m also not good at swallowing – let alone digesting – lies I hear from others. I abhor blatant factual lies that can be proven wrong by looking things up in dictionaries, uncovering contradictions, or following reason and common sense; I resent emotionally soothing lies that bucket things and people together in sweeping statements of universal validity (never defensible when properly examined), masking more complex nettings of aspirations, intentions, and motivations; I agonize over illusively fundamental lies of being, not being, both, or neither that get in the way of life running its course.
At the same time, I acknowledge with awe that our world is fashioned from lies. From the enormous radical lies of birth (as if anything ever started from nothing), death (as if anything was ever finished for good), and existence (as if anything stayed anywhere anytime ever). From the big practical lies that make up our fabric of living together: Lies of wants and needs, lies of laws and rules to follow, lies of groups we belong to and identities that define us, lies of individuality and independence, and lies of change, growth, and transformation. And from the small merciful lies that help us in day-to-day life: time that heals everything, scorpios who are stubborn, thieves, murderers, or rapists who get caught and are punished, princes who slay dragons and propose to fair ladies, roses that are red, violets that are blue, being the change we want to see in the world, finding ourselves, staying true to each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, and at some point, finally, living happily ever after. All these are helpful at times – but they are still nothing but lies.
Now, beyond my personal grappling with lies, there’s a bigger context for all this: We live in times when the notions of true and false, right and wrong, helpful and unhelpful, inspiring and uninspiring, reliable and unreliable are losing their contours, slurring into vagueness, and blending into a hazy fog where orientation is difficult, paths are uncertain, and ghosts’ voices echo in misty clouds. Marketing experts lure us with shiny lies promising that diamonds are forever, some fizzy drink is the real thing, we can have it our way, just do it, and impossible is nothing. Politicians appeal to our instincts with crude lies that simplify our world to the point where something “out there” or someone “other” is always to blame – and therefore eventually needs to be destroyed. Filter bubbles on social media wrap us into cozy lies of being surrounded by like-minded friends. Life coaches bewitch us with comforting lies of well-being, fulfillment, serenity, and never-ending happiness.
Just like I feel personally torn between the appalling ghastliness of lies on the one hand and their obvious purposefulness on the other, the world appearing around me seems to struggle with how well it has come to understand – and use – the elegantly manipulative resourcefulness of lies, while at the same time not wanting to fully surrender to their outrageously powerful force. Instead, just like me, it dithers on the edge – with a bit of a rational-minded skepticism, a bit of emotional reluctance, and a bit of nostalgia for the dream of replacing all lies with eternal truth, once and for all.
So, then, what to do? I don’t have recipes for saving the world or solving its contradictions. However, I’ve observed a few things about my own skepticism, reluctance, and nostalgia that might come in handy for some who want to explore what is going on. If some cannot relate, I apologize for wasting their time. And: Please remember that these ideas, too, are just more lies in disguise of temporary truths aspiring to be a tiny bit helpful where all hope is lost.
Firstly, then, with regard to factual lies: When I hear that crows don’t have teeth, the world is flat, painted cows can be milked, energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared, or nirvana is beyond extremes, I urge myself to have the discipline to examine and investigate what is being said, how those who’re saying it found their truth, and what their arguments and ways of thinking are. Why, I force myself to analyze, might this be plausible to some even if it sounds like a lie to me? Sometimes this is a quick process with a swift answer that cuts through misunderstandings, clarifies concepts, and (re-)establishes some kind of common (albeit transient) ground of agreement. Sometimes, however, I find myself getting spookily attached to being right – as opposed to wanting to learn, understand, and expand what my perception can hold as possibilities arising around me. This, I believe, is where I need to be cautious to not get stuck with self-inflicted lies about my own world’s limitations. So when I feel courageous I aspire to never want to be right.
Secondly, with regard to emotional lies: When I hear that spirits, demons, witches, crusaders, capitalists, communists, corporations, hippies, believers, non-believers, men, or women are to blame (or to praise), and when that accusation (or accolade) feels plausible to me even in the most subtle way, I admonish myself to look inwardly rather than outwardly. Why, I force to myself to probe, would I feel comfortable – or uncomfortable – accepting (or rejecting) what is being said? Sometimes I instantaneously stumble upon a blazing contradictory example or a soothing qualifying argument to cross over the generalizations and make them lose weight, vigor, and viability, saving me from being swept away with their deceivingly consoling confirmation. Sometimes, however, I catch myself sheepishly indulging in feeling relieved from responsibility – as opposed to exploring where my own hopes and fears prevent me from discovering how my stories about myself and the world could expand. This, I believe, is where I need to take heed to not be imprisoned by self-generated lies about my own abilities’ shortcomings. So when I feel daring I aspire to never long for comfort.
Thirdly, and finally, with regard to the most fundamental lies: When I hear that there’s doomsday or salvation, pain or bliss, eternal suffering or everlasting happiness, and when I find myself even momentarily attracted or repelled by either idea, I reprimand myself to investigate that attraction or repulsion. Why, I force my to inquire, would I long or fear to be attracted or repelled? Sometimes this suddenly pierces through the very attraction or repulsion, leaving nothing but shiny particles of moondust on dewdrops reflecting the first rays of sun in the morning. Sometimes, however, I catch myself lustfully wallowing in that same attraction or repulsion – as opposed to letting it sway so it can linger, float, fondle, tickle, trickle, rise, or rest as it fancies. This, I believe, is where I need to be on guard to not get spun into self-ignited lies about coming, going, or being. So when I feel fearless I aspire to be at rest with the flow.
Most likely we’ll never live in a world made of truths. This, however, is a little less daunting and a lot less dangerous when we allow ourselves to embrace the lies that make up the universe that we live in, individually and collectively. Let us be skeptical, not only towards everything that we perceive, but also towards our own desire for being right and for righteousness. Let us be reluctant, not only towards emotional truths that seduce us, but also towards our own tendency of wanting (or not wanting) to be seduced. Let us be nostalgic, not only with regard to finding what is ultimately true, but also with regard to that very longing of finding (or not finding) anything at all. May all dissolve into naked truth. May all arise beyond lies.Photo by Jonny Lindner, Germany.
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