Saturday, November 23, 2013

The tangled webs of deceit

Image courtesy of "Boaz Yiftach/
Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach/
There must be a whole lot of smoking pants in the corridors of power. It seems that every week, new information about the Senate scandal or Rob Ford comes to light. Still, the truth is elusive and the people involved are evasive.  In my recent column, I reflect on "the truth will set you free".  

No one is perfect

I agree with Rob Ford, the beleaguered mayor of Toronto, on two points: no one is perfect and we all make mistakes.  We have all done things that we regret and (hopefully, for our own good) we had to take responsibility for our actions. Over the course of my life, I have learned that it is always better to be forthcoming with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth than to persist in a web of lies, and that I am at peace with myself when I accept responsibility for my actions. The truth is freeing. 

A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon an episode of Oprah’s Life Class on the theme, “The truth will set you free”.  If the hundreds of people who participated in the episode are even remotely representative of the general population, many people seek freedom from deception. While we want to stop deceiving others about ourselves, fear of rejection holds us back.

In my worldview, the truth that frees goes beyond owning up to a falsehood, and leads us to discovering our deepest identity.  I believe that there is a divine spark in every person that orients us towards truth. While, for me, this spark is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of a loving, caring God, the notion of divinity within each person is common to many traditions throughout the ages. A rendering of Platonic thought describes us as “fired into existence with a madness that comes from the gods”, and legends from cultures around the world speak about the transcendent origins of the human person. There is something within each of us (I call it a soul) that is uniquely special and worthy; despite any deep-seated feelings of unworthiness that we may have, there is no need for lying.

We dislike deception
In fact, our brains and our bodies dislike the very act of lying.  We are wired towards truth. Measurable changes occur in blood pressure, pulse rate and breathing when we tell a lie. When we are lying, we sweat more, experience tightness in the torso, a loss of physical strength, and we may feel sick to our stomach. Experts in body language and law enforcement officials can usually tell when a person is lying because lying expresses itself in things like posture, language, and how someone uses their hands when speaking. 

No, we do not like any type of deception; maybe that is why when we finally come clean, we say that a weight has been lifted off our shoulders. When we admit the truth, we feel a sense of relief, even if the consequences are unpleasant.

Simplicity is integral to truth
Lying is complicated. One lie leads to another, and maintaining the original lie takes a concentrated effort. Sir Walter Scott expressed it poetically, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive”.   In contrast, simplicity is integral to the truth.

(Pinocchio, public domain)
Between the Senate scandal and the Rob Ford story, Canadian politics has given us plenty of evidence of the complications of deceitful behavior. Some public figures have failed to be forthcoming with the whole truth, and by degrees, more damaging information has come to light. Some have steadfastly refused to accept responsibility for their mistakes, preferring to make excuses and blame others even as the web unraveled.

"Don't you have any occhio?"
When I was growing up, my father had a favorite question, “Don’t you have any occhio?”  Occhio is an Italian word meaning “eye”, and my dad used it to mean “foresight” – to think things through before acting.  The question was a reprimand before a lecture and ensuing consequences, but it encouraged me to consider my actions in a moral context and to behave accordingly.  If I felt the need to lie about something, then the action was probably wrong, and I should avoid it.  It wasn’t so much the consequences that kept me on the straight and narrow; it was the intuition that I was in touch with my deepest identity when I behaved in a morally good way.

Yes, we are imperfect, and yes, we all make mistakes. And though it is tempting to hide our flaws and errors in tangled webs of deceit, the truth overcomes a multitude of sins providing we have the courage to own it.

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