So if little white lies are what polite society is based on, and fear keeps us from being brutally honest in relationships, what keeps us lying to ourselves?
The answer, in this third of a three part discussion on lying, may very well be death itself.
We tell ourselves we will get to that stack of dishes, that annoying home repair, or complicated personal addiction tomorrow because we have enough time for that later.
But lying to ourselves about how much time we have is like lying to a friend when they ask us if those pants make them look fat.
The truth of the matter is, considering both Western existential philosophies and Eastern based mindfulness practices, today is all that we really have. Death is waiting.
So, big deal-death is depressing, okay. Fine. But our culture’s inability to talk about death and the practicality of how to live meaningfully and be well informed about grief and loss is a problem that few come to terms with. Why do you think people are so keen on believing in an afterlife, in the power of the free market, in the second coming, in their own narcissism, in (fill in the blank)? Fear of death is one of the easiest emotions to exploit, and from Hollwood, Madison Avenue, the Vatican and even main street USA, we are constantly bombarded with messages that are intentionally and subconsciously freaking us out.
Literature and mythology are full of self-actualized characters who, after being transformed, have risen above the fear of death and, not surprisingly, talk about being more open and honest about everything. The Buddha, Jesus, and one of my personal favorites, Larry Darrell from the novel The Razor’s Edge. The tragedy of those stories is how adamantly the rest of the world–us normal people–refuse to accept the message. These stories really are trying to tell us something important about fear and our amazing ability to delude ourselves with nonsense. Contemporarily speaking, the onslaught of books and media about vampires exploits this fear even further. In them, death really isn’t the end. Death means you get to be sexier, stronger than ever dreamed of when one was alive—and be a superhero. Hello? Fantasy against death, calling on line one. Pick up, somebody. Pick up. We don’t get flawless, glowing skin and telepathy when we die. We get a pine box.
That brings us back to Seinfeld and Cosmo Kramer, hipster doofus or enlightened shaman?
Kramer didn’t get social lying. He rarely lied to himself either. He really believed he was quite, quite groovy (vanity is a potential future topic on the nature of lying-another time though). Kramer is the Shaman figure in the Seinfeld universe—he lives in his own bizarre apartment and comes to Jerry’s to interact with normal people: to bring his message to the other villagers. He has no means of employment or money, yet never worries about either, and always has a weird scheme on how to make more money and/or fame. And he is oddly successful with women. He is without much argument, the happiest of the 4 main characters in the show. He walks his own strange path and is pleased to be who he is. You rarely see that in television sitcoms, let alone out in the real world. That is why he is interesting. Atypical. A shaman is there, just outside the system, to give aid and instruction to those who seek enlightenment and illumination. And to loudly, and whenever needed, call bullshit on our tendency to lie to ourselves.
That’s a pretty good model for what effective therapy can be like. And that’s no lie.