The Best We Can Do is Lie

Posted on August 30, 2011

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97% of what we say is simply veiled self-disclosure.

We speak about the world, social issues, God, or other people, but we are actually talking about ourselves. We gossip, plan, argue, and lecture, but what we doing is exposing our heart and hopes. We know the world doesn’t make sense to us, so we tell a story that makes everything fit together. We know that we don’t make sense, so we seek a narrative that explains things in a palatable way.

But every story we tell is a lies.

Our words don’t change reality, they only simplify it. For example, when I say, “Mark is a big jerk.” It doesn’t change Mark. Mark exists as a complicated and nuanced human being and my words about him don’t alter anything about his essential “Mark-ness.” All my words do is reveal how I feel about Mark. What I am in fact saying is, “I think that Mark is a jerk.” (Or, “I’m afraid that I’m like Mark.)*

My feelings about Mark are pretty simple, and still I must reduce them to a platitude when I speak. I over-simplify because, in order to communicate, I must. However, with a more complex concept: God, economics, the inner workings of a MacBook Pro; any simple statement is going to be such a reduction of the truth, made palatable for the moment, that the truth may no longer represents reality as it is, but instead represents reality as we can handle it, or perhaps reality as we wish it were.

“Global warming is a lie.”

“Politics is corrupt.”

“God would never test someone by giving them cancer.”

“The institutional church is dead.”

“The Bible is the Word of God.”

“I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.”

The reality behind these statements are so complex that as stand-alone statements, they are lies. They need context and nuance. But too often we use statements like this to comfort us, to justify the life we are living, as a litmus test of who we allow to be near us, rather than dwell in a world that is messy, confusing, painful, and surround by people who see things in a vastly different way.

Then what do we do if our small brains are essential uncomprehending?

We stumble onward. We try to be better listeners. We engage in long-form conversation with people; conversations that become relationships and last for years. We cheer for the under-dog, side with the powerless, and question the powerful, because when the bright light of the status quo is shining in our eyes, we don’t see the shadows that are all around us. We speak humbly and think first.

We remember that when people talk, they too are talking about themselves, revealing their hopes and fears to us, and maybe we offer them a bit more grace. We hold our tongue more often. We eat together and drink together. We ask questions. And at the end of the day we go to bed and thank God that we are alive.

 

*[Note: I know that our words, especially by those we love, over time, and during formative times of life, can affect reality. But go with me on this one.]

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