There are two main kinds of lies: the lies we tell others, and the lies we tell ourselves. Both kinds of lies can do great damage. Now, I’m not talking obout those “little white lies we humans all tell to spare those we care about unnecessary pain. We have no obligation to be bluntly and fully forthcoming when it would serve no constructive person (like when we truly believe that friend of ours looks absolutely hideous in the outfit thy’re wearing). But some lies do serious damage not just to other’s feelings but to the very fabric of our character. Some lies cut at the heart of the human soul. And that’s where the evil lies.
The Evil in Some Lies
I’ve counseled many individuals over the years. And many have engaged in behaviors that were harmful to themselves or others. Some didn’t really know or fully appreciate what they’re doing when they engaged in those behaviors. But others were fully aware and simply lied about it. Now, mainly we lie for two reasons: to avoid some negative consequence we anticipate or to help ensure get get something we want that we don’t think we can come by easily and legitimately. And while that’s bad enough, disturbed characters lie for more sinister reasons. Manipulators lie to protect the image they want to project – an image they know to be patently false. They do this to hoodwink others and avoid reckoning with their character shortcomings. There’s a special kind of evil in such lies.
Truly Malignant Lies
Perhaps the most malignant lies are the lies we tell to ourselves and to others about the true nature of our intentions and actions. I’m not talking about “denial” here – that unconscious defense nature endows us with to protect us from unbearable pain. Rather, I’m talking about deliberately casting a false impression in order to maintain favorable appearances while knowinly doing unconscionable things. I can’t count the number of times divorcing partners falsely cast their determination to inflict pain and punishment on one another as only sincere concern for the welfare of their children. There have also been many instances in which a person cloaked their desire to wield dominance and control under the guise of merely caring too much. There is genuine evil in thise type of lying.
Lying and Human Nature
At a primal level, we are all animals with basic desires, instincts, urges, and raw emotions. And these primal characteristics of ours are not inherently evil. They’re a part of who we are. But because we are more than mere animals, we’re capable of functioning on a much higher plane. Before we can elevate ourselves to that plane, however, we must first “own” and then reckon with our baser inclinations. Of course, this is neither appealing nor easy. In fact the burden of self-reckoning is a “cross” we’re all called to carry if we’re to fashion a better world. But failing to accept this burden and instead lying about the flaws within ourselves is the ultimate evil.
The Truth Shall Set You Free
There is a saying that the truth shall make you free. But my years of dealing largely with the characterological messes people can make of themselves has taught me that the truth is also the way to make a person well. Long ago I came to appreciate the power of honest self-reckoning and the power of benign therapeutic confrontation. When truth is alive in the therapy room, more is at work than either the confessions of a client or the therapist’s attempt at conscientious guidance. Of course, therapists have to be sure their own psychological “baggage” isn’t getting in the way, too. That requires their own honest self-reckoning. But the truth is always where the power is in therapy. And for many years, I’ve witnessed the truth help many to be set free and made well.
There’s more to come on this important fourth “commandment” of sound character development. And of course you can find more on the subject in several other articles on the blog as well as in my books In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, The Judas Syndrome, and How Did We End Up Here?
Sunday evening’s Character Matters (7 pm EDT, 6 pm CDT) will be a LIVE BROADCAST, so I can take your calls. I’ll also be having a special guest with me talking about the importance of character in the workplace. Join the conversation at (718) 717-8296.