A lie is a misrepresentation of reality. Some lies are told to avoid the consequences of responsibility. Some lies are told in order to influence outcomes in one’s favor. Some lies are told to establish or maintain control over another person or group of people. Some lies are told to enforce an alternative reality on one’s spouse, one’s group, one’s circle of influence, one’s country. All lies are an attempt to control one’s circumstances, and to change one’s circumstances to one’s advantage. Lies are told by an individual to himself or herself to avoid realities that may be too painful to face. Lies are told by children to avoid punishment or to gain advantage over a sibling or a peer. Lies are told in marriages to avoid responsibility or to exert power or control over the other. Lies are told at school or at work to gain competitive advantage over colleagues, or to give the impression that the work presented is one’s own when it was actually plagiarized from someone else’s. Lies are told by leaders to avoid losing the trust of followers. Lies are told by people to maintain an impression of reality that exists to their advantage. Most of us live our lives entangled in a dragnet of lies. Because lies are the currency of our culture, we scarcely even notice them unless they become so flagrant that we are forced by the incongruency and magnitude of the hypocrisy to deal with it.
Lies are believed because someone is ignorant of what’s being said and done. Lies are believed because of laziness. Lies are believed because of complacency; one doesn’t want to be bothered. Lies are believed because of complicity; it remains more to one’s advantage to go along than to resist. Lies are believed because of fear; one is afraid of what might happen, what one might lose, what one might suffer if one stands against the lie.
Lies are an instrument of control and power. Some lies are blatant, some are subtle. All are ultimately destructive of genuine relationship. Those who use lies do not view another person as someone to be loved, but rather as a thing to be managed and controlled. The primary concern ceases to be of the other; instead the primary concern is attaining and maintaining one’s place, one’s power, one’s control, of maintaining the illusion, managing the perception of others, getting the right spin, preserving the advantage. Liars are by nature self-righteous. They are quick to defend themselves, quick to impugn the motives of their critics, quick to dismiss any reality but their own. And they are incredibly effective. Liars have done the calculus and feel it is to their advantage to misrepresent reality. I know it will be a shock, but politics is driven to a great extent by lying. Look closely at those gaining and maintaining power, be it in academic institutions, organizations, governments, even (especially?) churches, and one will discover a stunning dependency on lies to climb the ladder of influence and play the game of power and control..
When power and control is at stake in any relationship, truth is often the first casualty. And all parties collaborate. The drive to attain power over another becomes a compulsion, and reality is bent to suit the purpose. One can get as much of a hit winning an argument as with any narcotic. Power and control can be addictive, with the dominant one needing his or her fix at the expense of someone around them.
When reality is misrepresented in relationships, and one demands that the other accept his/her perspective/analysis/depiction as the only valid point of view, violence is done to the partner’s self-esteem, self-worth and capacity to judge his or her own perception. This is often done in the context of conflict, and the partner is kept off balance by the never-ending barrage of reality-challenging demands and blaming and abuse intended to beat back any resistance. They succeed because the partner will often do anything to preserve the relationship, or at least stop the conflict and the pain. Both partners thus share a role in the lie. One may make it, but the other one chooses to believe it. Moreover, the relationship is often locked into perpetual miscommunication and spirals into multiple layers of conflict and dysfunction. Either way, the imposed-upon party often thinks he/she is going crazy. In a marriage, the partner may assume that the other is just as well-meaning as she is, that they are both on the same page with regards to what love and reciprocity and mutuality are all about. The imposed-upon partner may need the other regardless of how poorly they are treated. In the meantime, the other is concerned about control, about getting power over. Buttressed by his/her partner’s fear, too often it is a very successful strategy.
Writ large, this misrepresentation of reality is the strategy of choice used by many of history’s most notorious dictators. North Korea provides a chilling example of what happens to entire populations of otherwise sane men, women and children. Fear compels them to accept the leadership’s misrepresentation of reality. They conform their lives to lies, and if they have concerns, they must keep them hidden and live with a bifurcated mind. Once again, the misrepresentation of reality – the lies – become a means of establishing and maintaining control
I’ve been thinking a lot about lies lately – the lies we tell ourselves and others, the lies we believe and perpetuate. I’ve come to see just how entangled in lies I’ve been, lies of my own fabrication and lies of my own enabling. For some reason, despite my profession to be a Christian, I have a decided aversion to the truth. I don’t think I’m alone, either. My fear of rejection, among other things, has led me for decades to smother into silence the small voice that was telling my heart that something is not right here. My fear of conflict led me for decades to conform to another’s reality that was in conflict with what my heart told me. My fear of failure drove me to keep trying, keep changing, keep doing what I was told only to have the misrepresented reality I was trying to embrace evaporate in my arms like a mirage. I thought I was losing my mind. Truth be told, I had.
Jesus introduces truth into every equation. For this reason, we find Him fundamentally threatening. Most prefer the comfort of our own reality than his. Jesus warns those who would come after him that it will be costly, that it will involve self-denial, that it will involve a crucifixion: one’s own. Jesus understood that our default posture is to live in misrepresented reality, in prisons of our own making. But he also makes the startling claim that we shall know the truth, and the truth shall set us free.
A lie is a misrepresentation of reality. That’s bad enough. But it’s only when we believe those lies, whether our own, or someone else’s, that all hell breaks loose. Literally.