My best friend John had invited my wife and I to have dinner with him and a woman that he had recently begun dating. In fact, I believe it was their second date. I had known John for quite a while and had met a number of the ladies over the years that he had been involved with. I had never met this one. Right away, I saw that Janet was different. Compared to the others, she represented the cream of the crop. I was totally taken by her intelligence, her caring, her compassion, her interest, her softness, her gentleness, her self-awareness and her depth. Near the end of the night, I heard myself say to John, in front of her, “John, I have seen you with a lot of women over the years, Janet is by far the most together woman I have seen you with, I’m not quite sure how you got her to go out with you, but I can’t imagine your finding a better partner. What are your intentions in terms of her being a part of your life?” Well, you could have heard a pin drop. My wife kicked me under the table. What happened next? I’ll save the aftermath of that moment for the end of this post.
A number of friends can attest to having been “beneficiaries” of the “truth teller” part of me. I’ve been characterized as a ‘straight shooter’, who will ‘tell it at it is’ to the point that there is a phrase that John coined after that night which portends one of those truth telling moments. “Fixin to do a Ted” (John was a Georgia boy) is a warning sign from those around me that I’m about to say what is on my mind whether the person is prepared to hear it or not.
Last month’s topic involved my discourse on my, and I sensed my culture’s, troubled relationship with the concept of telling and living in “the truth” as much as we are supposed to. I was confessing to an awareness that there is a significant deceiver part of me that balances out the truth teller me. It sparked a number of comments from those who read it, and some interesting discussions with those closest to me. I spoke of my interest in and desire to accept, acknowledge, know better, and make peace with this “deceiver” part of myself.
My point was to acknowledge that despite my natural tendency to need solid ground to stand on, and my need to absolutize things, i.e., “I either tell the truth, or I am a liar”; to know that I am both, seems to be, well, more honest and truthful. I’ve found that my dualistic tendencies (to see things, and people’s behaviors as black or white, true or false, real or unreal, bad or good, etc.) haven’t served me all that well. And, in retrospect, when I have looked through that small portal at others, it hasn’t been good for them either.
One of the gifts of the years I have been on this earth has been to realize that the older I get, the less I know, for sure. It scares me to think of what I believed I knew, for sure, about myself, others, and how the world worked when I was forty. More embarrassing yet, is that I wasn’t so shy about letting others know of what I “knew” to be true.
So, I think I am better off knowing and copping to having an equal ability to tell the truth or to deceive in any given situation and focusing my attention on which me it is appropriate to be in that moment.
I wanted to share some of the feedback I got from readers to help fill out this discussion.
Tim: “When we see and hear someone doing stand-up comedy, we laugh with them because they are telling the truth. They say the things we feel we cannot say, we keep it in our heads, but they let it out, and get paid to do so.” (Among other things Tim is an improvisational actor and comedian, does great, funny, meaningful work – find out more about him at www.TimCusack.com). When Tim mentioned this, I was reminded of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” TV show, when I would literally wince when he told and acted on his truth.
And Bobbie: “I think that our ability to organize ourselves into communities demands that we at least, in some part, recognize that white lies can and do grease the squeaky wheel. I've always enjoying flirting with older men, telling them how cute they are. They love it and so do I. As for me, my biggest lies are about time....I'll have it to you tomorrow. That one, as opposed to the flirting, is destructive. So we can divide the camp into harmless and joyful vs. destructive.”
Charlotte: “The whole truth is hard to digest, like looking in the mirror, which I often avoid, or it’s like the lights being too bright in a room. Children have no filters and call it as they see it, but it is always from their perspective. Inside is where the real dirty truth exists and we are encouraged from babyhood to not reveal anything that is not NICE.”
Robert: “I think of honesty as developmental and adaptive. Kids learn like the one in your story. ‘Out of the mouths of babes’ comes truth which can wound the ego. Ego can be seen as our effort to have ourselves seen differently than we think is true. Shame reduction can come as a result of ‘outing’ the truth so that there is nothing more to hide. This is all complex and very ‘psychodynamic’ involving a dance of deception to protect our effort to be something we want to be but are likely not. So nice, isn't it to be old and ugly and to be ok with it! Let's rid our shame by standing in the truth of ourselves and finding companionship with those who like us that way.”
Judi, “I appreciate the challenges, complications and nuances of being truthful. And, as I continue the effort to know myself, I feel drawn to know what feels true to me. Speaking the truth is often so difficult. The quote below speaks to me....about the importance of attempting ‘truth telling’.”
"An honorable human relationship -- that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ -- is a process. It is delicate, violent, and often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other. It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation. It is important to do this because in so doing we do justice to our own complexity. It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us." Adrienne Rich
So, to finish the John and Janet story, on the way home from dinner that night, they began discussing the question I had raised, what were his intentions? Hers? Theirs? They had known each other a long time before they had started dating, had been friends, and that evening’s discussion led to their marriage a year later. It was the best relationship either of them had experienced, they worked hard at it. They were challenged in many ways by events beyond their control. They were a dynamic couple, a model for many, and whose relationship ended with John’s sudden death a few short years later. It’s been about 15 years since then, Janet is still a friend of ours, she has a new male friend, and I have promised her to keep my mouth shut, no matter what I might want to say, though when we are all together I can tell that she is just hoping that I’m not “Fixing to do a Ted”.