Yes, you read that correctly. I’m a liar. And, no I’m not a pathological liar. I'm no Tommy Flanagan.
This is difficult for me. I’ve grown a lot over the years, and have to admit that I’ve also told a lot of untruths. Many of us have, and no, I’m not saying that to make an excuse for my behavior. Most of us at least tell some little white lies to protect someone’s feelings. People do that.
Sometimes, we lie to avoid conflict. I’ve done that a lot. For a long time, I was very conflict-avoidant. The intense emotions of conflict brought me to a place emotionally that I didn’t understand and didn’t like. I would lie about stupid things when I was married. When asked simple things, like whether or not I’d paid the electric bill, I’d say that I had done so in order to avoid any potential conflict over why I hadn’t, even if I was planning to do the bills, which weren’t late, that evening. Had I said that I was going to do them that evening, it would have been fine. I was just incredibly insecure and afraid of where conflict would take me. The great irony of those lies is that they caused a great deal more conflict than I was trying to avoid in the first place.
I worked through this with a therapist, and I understand where the conflicts brought me. I’ve made peace with this. It doesn’t change the damage that those lies did, but I was able to move forward. In subsequent relationships I’ve been able to be honest about stupid little shit like that.
We may also say things that aren’t true in order to save someone’s feelings. We may say that someone looks great in a new shirt because that person feels confident and beautiful in it, even though we wouldn’t let our dog have puppies on that shirt because we think it’s so grossly ugly that adding puppy afterbirth to it would just be more than we could bear. We don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings. It’s not my shirt, and I don’t have to wear it. Along the same lines a teacher or parent may say that a child’s art is wonderful, even though the kid hasn’t heard of foreshortening and has absolutely no concept of the atmospheric perspective. People tell that kid it’s great because we want to encourage her to explore her creativity, and hopefully, she’ll learn about depth.
And sometimes, people lie to hide their shame and embarrassment. I’m never all that shocked when a politician or celebrity is exposed for a lie. Of course politicians want to hide things that might be politically damaging, and of course celebrities hide things that may embarrass them or damage their reputations. Of course President Clinton didn’t inhale, and of course he didn’t receive the historic Oval Office hummer. Of course Larry Craig had a wide stance. Of course Lance Armstrong and Aaron Rodriguez didn’t use performance enhancing drugs. Of course Tiger Woods was a faithful husband. Of course [insert female celebrity’s name here] has real boobs. Of course [insert male celebrity’s name here] didn’t cheat on his smoking hot wife with the beautiful nanny. Those are all damn lies!
People do things that hurt their careers and reputations and relationships, and they don’t want that truth out. The truth hurts relationships and legacies. The truth costs people their careers. The truth can just be embarrassing. I completely understand why people lie about this stuff. I also completely understand the consequences. If we don’t want to be embarrassed or have our marriages or careers ruined, then we should just do the right thing from the beginning. We often don’t, and we pay the price.
There are things I’ve done that are very embarrassing. I’m glad no one knows about them. I’ve lied about some of them. Some I’ve told the truth about. If TMZ were to get some embarrassing video of me, I’d own my behavior and try to move forward. I don’t think there are any unrevealed lies out there that would hurt anyone who’s currently in my life. There may be some things that would cause me some embarrassment. I’d have to deal with that. This piece isn’t really about those lies. I’ve made peace with them, and I try to think about the consequences of what I do before I put myself in situations where I may be embarrassed by what happens.
There are still other lies that are harder to understand for most people. These are lies that people use to create a back story. Now, I’m not going to go after Ben Carson here. That’s too easy. But people create back stories to make themselves look better or to feel connected with something. Comedian Steve Rannazzisi was working in New York in 2001. After he moved to LA he started telling people that he had been working for Merrill Lynch in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I don’t know why he did this. I’m not sure he does, but he’s paid quite a price professionally. He’s pretty funny, and I hope, for his sake,that he can overcome some of the damage to his career. There’s no excusing what he did, but he’s really only guilty of being an asshole and offending millions of people.
And there are darker lies that create back stories. Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and plans to attack out country and our allies. Al Quaeda is in Iraq, and Iraq was involved in 9-11. These lies get people killed. They’re shameful. I would only be avoiding telling my own truth if I delved into this, so I’ll move on.
My greatest lie is one of these. No, I did not get anyone killed or start a war. I did create a back story, to my shame, and my conscience can’t seem to shake it. I have to process through this, and no mere discussion with my therapist will allow me to let it go.
But first, let’s briefly consider what a lie is. A lie is something that someone says that is untrue. And we have to know it’s untrue for it to be a lie. Otherwise, it’s just a mistake. If I say that the universe is about 10 billion years old, but I later find out that it’s really around 12 billion years old. I didn’t lie. I was just ignorant of the truth.
Now, let’s dig deeper. What is truth? Can we call it observable reality? It’s more complicated than we think. Can we say that something is true if it is observable, something that happened, without the filter of emotion or of judgment? I believe this will work. The sky is blue. The earth revolves around the sun. Ice cream is cold. I have a maple tree in my yard. These are all things that different people can observe and agree on.
We also have to consider perception. Our perceptions tend to influence our understanding of reality. Is it partly cloudy or mostly sunny? As a color blind man, I often have to check with others to confirm the colors of objects. I may have purchased a nice, blue shirt last weekend, but the first time I wear it, someone compliments me on my nice, purple shirt. But now I know the truth. The shirt is purple, and I trust others’ perceptions of it. That’s a very simple example. Here’s another. The city of Augusta, Maine, where I used to work, has a few traffic circles. Some people perceive them as a pain in the ass, and try to avoid them. Some people perceive presence of traffic circles as just how things are, and they perceive the idiots who do not know how to drive in traffic circles as the pain in the ass.
Indeed, whether or not something is a pain in the ass is subjective. People can objectively agree that there are traffic circles in Augusta. This is factually observable and is, therefore, true. The things that make the traffic circles a pain in the ass are matters of opinion, affected by an individual’s perception and experience. While they are true for the individual, they are not something that everyone sees the same, so they can’t be accepted as a general truth.
There are some things that may seem to be subjective, but they are, in fact absolutely true. I have a great ass. You’d think that using “great” makes it subjective. Nope, it’s universally accepted that I have a great ass. It’s one of those things like, “Angelina Jolie is beautiful” or “Peyton Manning is the best actor in the NFL,” that everyone universally agrees upon.
And I won’t get into the belief versus truth issue with religion versus science. That’s a bigger issue, and, quite frankly, that would be another way for me to put off writing about my big, big lie, the reason for this piece.
When I was younger and didn’t know myself well, I often probably didn’t know what truth really was. I lied about things to protect others’ feelings or to preserve the idea that I’m a sweet and nice guy or to avoid conflicts. Those lies hurt people and damaged my relationships. There are days when I still kick myself for some of those lies. But those lies are in the past. I’ve made peace with them and learned from them. I know myself better, and I know I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone with untruths anymore. I’ve tried to become a truth teller, and I can honestly say that I’m proud of the progress I’ve made.
Except for one pretty significant lie.
While I was in the army and army reserve I was over the army’s weight limit for my age and height for most of my career. Whenever we had a weigh-in, I’d have to be given the body fat tape test even when I was in the best shape of my life. I was often 15 to 25 pounds over the weight limit, but I always passed the tape test. But the 50-ish pounds of pure masculine glory that I put on from the time I was 18 to the time I retired from the army reserve at 43 started to get to me along the way. I made something up to try to explain it away.
I guess I was embarrassed. I don’t know. I guess I wanted to make myself feel better about having to be taped because I was overweight. I mean, I still don’t know why I did this. I’ve never
|Does this guy look like he|
has any reason to be
ashamed of his body?
And pretty much everyone agrees how desirable and awesome I am. A recent Gallup poll showed the 89 percent of single women wanted to be with me and 99 percent of men wanted to be me (3.5 percent margin of error). Hell, a lot of the men wanted to be with me, and a significant percentage of the women wanted to be me. And there I was lying about stuff for all those years of my military service. What is wrong with me?
I may never understand why, and I may never be able to make anyone understand. I just had to make up a story, a story, incidentally, that could pass no test of the truth. It was objectively and subjectively false. No one, and I mean no one, would be able to objectively observe me and concur that what I had been saying was even remotely true. I couldn’t even make a subjective argument that it was true in my perception. I fully acknowledge that it was a lie, and I own this.
I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to post this. I may just delete this file. Here’s what I did. Here’s my lie. I implied that my, ahem, “masculinity” was the reason I was overweight. Hell, who am I kidding? Not you. Not America. I was a soldier with a security clearance, and I couldn’t say a basic truth about myself.
And for crying out loud, I didn’t imply anything. I just lied. I’ll spare you the indelicate language I used, but I said that it was all “junk" weight. That was why I didn’t meet the army’s weight standards. Seriously, 25 pounds? That’s a hell of a lie. I’m sorry. I know. I’m a bad person. I failed to live up to the army values, and I failed my country. I failed you all.
I’m a bad person, and I hope that someday, I will be able to regain your trust.