“The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off!” someone once famously said.
But this, as a fellow traveller* with whom I once shared a special connection aptly put, is only a “one time yuk!”
I think the phrase sums it up perfectly, because although you might feel awful at first, you’ll find that owning up to some less-than-desirable quality or aspect to yourself (if only to yourself alone) will offer you surprising relief from the very thing you’re afraid of admitting.
I suspect you might be wondering, “What could I possibly stand to gain from doing so?”
Actually, it’s more about what you stand to lose. Because while I recognize that the truth can render us vulnerable and exposed I also know – from my own experience – that an exercise in self-honesty has the power to unshackle you from the mental prison that is your fear – and open up a doorway to personal growth and self-actualisation.
Oh, and how I do wish more of my fellow human beings were honest – I mean really honest – with themselves!
In an age where more and more people are championing the just causes of truth and greater transparency, it confounds me that I keep encountering seemingly intelligent, educated folks who appear to be suffering from some form of self-delusion, self-deception or denial. It’s become such a frequent observation that lately I’ve been feeling like an epidemic of cognitive dissonance has taken hold of the human race.
On these occasions I actually find myself having to stifle the overwhelming urge to lean towards the offending individual in question and whisper, “Would you please snap out of it. You’re really not fooling anybody else but yourself here. It’s glaringly obvious to me what you’re up to, so please understand that I won’t sit idly by and allow you to inflict your dysfunction on me or anyone else. Best you take your crap some place else, or better yet, why not own up to it?”
Despite how it sounds I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the people who exhibit this type of behaviour and what informs it. I do understand that there are certain things that we all find difficult or uncomfortable to admit about ourselves – which makes it next to impossible to admit them to others. There’s always the fear, isn’t there, that people will judge us or at the very least think less of us? There’s also the very real risk that people might use our honesty against us. Indeed, it takes a lot of backbone to admit the truth and accept the consequences that might follow.
So we tend to deny or withhold the truth – even from ourselves.
In other words, we lie – and not just by omission.
Hard to detect, this self-deception makes it easier for us to posture as the version of ourselves that we’d like the world to see. Of course, we don’t like to think of ourselves as liars because it makes us feel bad, so we lie to ourselves about that too. Then it’s all business as usual.
You could argue that because we’re lying to protect ourselves, it’s a form of self-preservation. And we figure that what people don’t know can’t hurt them. Seems pretty harmless, right?
In fact, it can be anything from misleading to destructive.
Because even if you’re not speaking your truth, you are living it. Which means that you’re likely playing out all your stuff – without even realising it.
Let me use a small but not insignificant example to elaborate…
Recently, one of the shows I work on received a snarky Facebook comment from a viewer who didn’t approve of the host of the food show using Indian spices to marinate a leg of lamb for the braai (BBQ) in that particular episode. The middle-aged white woman in question seemed curiously affronted by what she called a “terrible waste of good meat”. When the comment came to my attention I thought it was a joke at first. It takes a certain temerity and tactlessness to publicly insult someone’s cooking – especially that of a professional chef’s. “You’d have to feel very strongly about something to do that!” I remember thinking.
And even if you have an aversion to spicy flavours, to be as peeved as she was seemed oddly excessive. But it was also very telling, particularly if you knew how that episode of the show ended – with the host enjoying the said contentious spicy lamb with his guests : an interracial couple of an Indian man and his white wife – and their kids.
You might say, “Aren’t you reading too much into this? Maybe she’s just a purist who doesn’t appreciate all these new-age exotic food trends encroaching on that most hallowed of South African food institutions : the braai.”
Of course, I could be wrong.
But I doubt it.
It only took a few minutes of perusing her other comments, likes and posts on her Facebook feed to confirm my suspicions.
Here’s how I suspect the women’s comment would have read if you were able to eavesdrop on her internal process :
“To Whom It May Concern, my hostile and graceless remark about the host’s prerogative to prepare a leg of lamb as he saw fit is really symptomatic of my discomfort with the presence of an Indian man in an Afrikaans show. Of course, I won’t come right out and say that because I’d be announcing to the world that I’m racist, so it’s less incriminating to sublimate my prejudice against Asian people into a disapproval of their spices or style of cooking.”
Now I’m not pulling the race card here. This isn’t a post about covert racism – although that would be a classic example of self-deception in action.
Rather, this blog is about the unconscious ways we all betray what we’re feeling or thinking without the element of introspection and self-honesty to unpack and understand it for ourselves first. It’s hardly surprising then that the internet is so awash with the hypocrisy, negativity and bile that people routinely vomit in the form of comment dressed up as opinion or constructive criticism. There are simply far too many people out there who aren’t self-aware enough to realise what they’re projecting onto everyone else and why.
Do you have any idea how comical and ironic it is to figure out, sometimes within a few minutes, what a relative stranger’s underlying issues are – when he or she has yet to take the time or effort to identify it for themselves? Some go a lifetime without ever doing so.
That ‘disconnect’ is utterly fascinating and maddening at the same time!
If you want to lie to yourself, go ahead. But if the lies you continue to tell yourself cause you to behave in unconsciously hurtful ways towards other people, then beware – because someday someone is going to call you on it and I can assure you, it will humiliate and hurt you far more than admitting the truth can.
So why not try a little self-honesty?
It’s only a one time yuk!
*Thank you RH. Best of luck to you.