Why We Don’t Tell the Truth
Ever wondered why we sometimes keep the truth hidden, even from those we love most? Today, we’re exploring the intricacies of truth and deceit with questions like:
Why do we resort to little white lies? What drives us to withhold the truth? Is keeping a secret ever an act of love? And how do we navigate the weight of truth when it feels unbearable? The humbling reality is that none of us can handle the unfiltered truth all the time and we all have the capacity for deception.
How does recognizing our inability to bear the full truth serve us? How can we move toward greater honesty and authenticity, both within ourselves and in our relationships with others?
Join Dan and Rachael as they navigate the depths of truth, deception, and the hope that emerges from our quest for more honesty and love.
Dan: I think it’s somewhat appropriate to begin by saying, I just lied to my wife and given that I didn’t intend for that to be the case, as we were planning to do a conversation about secrets and about the potential of deceit and lying, but it just seemed so necessary this morning to lie to her. It’s a confession that it’s probably not the best realm to confess before I’ve confessed fully to her, but I’ll do that later today.
Rachael: Yeah, I mean, surely our listeners can hear, your voice has some strain. You definitely have some congestion in your sinuses. So I’m curious if this lying to your wife had anything to do with the state of your body and your capacity, because I’m sure she was looking out for you.
Dan: Damn girl. Are you a therapist?
Dan: Yes you are. Let’s not get into that. That’s not our primary point today. Yeah. Yeah. That’s what happened. I came back from a lovely trip where I got to fish with my dear friend Steve Call as we were fishing the Big Horn River in Montana and caught some really stunning, glorious fish. But I also caught COVID. Didn’t realize that until I got home. Thought it was just a cold. Then fevers came, and then the whole covid routine, I literally had on winter clothes. And then that moment where I don’t know what happens in the body, where it’s like all of a sudden everything got shed that would keep me from sweating, insane. Anyway, so I had to let my daughter know that I had COVID because she has the ability to write script, and so she ordered Paxlovid for me, but she went ahead, damnit and told my wife who’s traveling right now, been gone for a couple weeks with dear friends out in Nova Scotia, and so she calls like, you have COVID, you’ve got to cancel. You’ve got to cancel this whole week. And I’m like, I don’t have time to cancel. I’m going to cancel a few things.
Rachael: Well, and just to clarify because I want our listeners to know, canceling for you means canceling from home. You’re working from home. It’s not like you’re out and about mingling with the masses.
Dan: Right, spreading my disease to the world. Yeah. I mean like what we’re doing right now, I get to look at you on a screen and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,
Rachael: But still, you said no.
Dan: She is adamant. I think frankly, lemme just see if we can work this through. I think she’s feeling both sad but also somewhat guilty because she’s not here and wants to be here to tend to her beloved sick husband. So she’s going to be adamant at the level of, you need to cancel. And I’m like, I feel miserable, but I’d be more miserable trying to figure out when we’re going to do this and a few other things. So I have to lie to her. Well now is it lying? Well, again, it’s such a subjective issue of how bad you feel. She feels guilty, I feel pressured now I’m going to tell her I’m good. This is the best COVID I’ve ever had.
Rachael: It’s only the second time you’ve had covid. I’m glad it’s the best you’ve ever had.
Dan: It’s the best.
Rachael: This is where we’re like, you can hear the lies. Liar, liar, pants on fire.
Dan: I don’t know how much is self-deception, other deception, or just leave me alone and lemme do my damn work. So I just have to let her know, yeah, you were right. I should have canceled almost everything except for this podcast. Nonetheless, the issue is we all have secrets. Therefore, in the process of having things that we hold, we’re in this bind. And so we want to talk about lying of just, not only not telling the truth, but telling a form of, I dunno, fiction, deceit that actually is a lie. So let’s at least step back to say… All of us have secrets. And again, this would take us into a cultural category of authenticity and honesty. And I think we live in an age in which authenticity is viewed as an overstatement on my part, but you got to tell what’s inside of you or you’re not being authentic. And I hold to the more C.S. Lewis approach, which is if we were to expose all that we are, all that we think and feel and do, we would be creating chaos and havoc for everyone, including ourselves, so we’re in a little bit of a bind and tension and that tension is we have parts of ourselves that part of me is: stay in bed. Another part of me is: just get the podcast done. So we’re in an inner war and I think we’re also in a inner war between what we feel inside and are outside. How does that ring for you?
Rachael: Yeah, I mean, I lied at the beginning of this podcast when you asked me if I was a therapist, I told the truth. No, technically as my pre-teen would say, technically I am not a therapist. I don’t have a therapeutic degree. Do I do really good therapeutic work with people? Yes, yes. So that sense of self-deception, other-center deception, collective deception, and the ways in which that plays out have huge implications for our relationships, especially our most intimate relationships. And as you’ve already put words to, it’s not happening in a vacuum. It’s a way of self protection, its a way of our style of relating. And it’s interesting because this is something in the early years of my marriage, I’m having to learn that sense. There is something in me that’s like, I need to know it all. Tell me everything. And then also on the flip side being like, do I want to tell everything? And also can I tell everything? I think your sense of there are parts inside of us, and we’ve talked about that on the Allender Center podcast, that we are made up of many developmental selves that have different levels of maturity and integration and capacity. And it’s like, yeah, I mean, I think we’re all liars to some extent. And my question for you would be, are we lying wittingly or unwittingly or a little bit of both? When you think about that inside the parts of us that are at odds with each other like you just named, and just for the record, I want to just let people know there’s no one is demanding that Dan do this podcast while he’s sick. I’m honoring him. And also at any moment he could say, let’s just find another time. I really do need to get in bed. But I am just thinking, how do we make sense? There are some people who really are just like two-faced in that sense of there is an active lie. What’s the lying in us?
Dan: Well, I know that what I did this morning was deceitful, but it felt somewhat, oh my gosh, how much self-deception, even in this next sentence, it felt somewhat beneficial and honoring to my wife to relieve her sense of worry and guilt. And I think she knew she was asking way beyond what was necessary. So again, part of the problem is some of the deceit lying has that white lie. We use that phrase to cover. Somebody says, how do I look in this outfit? And you go internally, awful. But it’s not the context to tell ’em. There are times where Becky has asked, how does this look? And my response is, I don’t want to be with you as you look.
Dan: You go ahead and go, but take a separate car. And she’s like, okay, well I’ve got your opinion clear on that. And there are other times I’ve said, well, it’s different. It’s really different, but I’m going to wear just what I normally wear a fishing shirt and fishing pants. And she’s like, I don’t care what you look like. And I’m like, then you go as you want. So I mean every relationship, this level of complexity. But I also know I have outright, clearly deceptively lied to my wife. Years ago I was buying a lot of books, a lot of books, and I would know when the mail would come and I would collect the books before Becky could see what was coming and then hide the Amazon boxes. And she doesn’t check that carefully, the credit card. And as a consequence, she caught me with that. How many books have you been buying? Oh, not many. Not a lot. How many? I don’t know. Can we go look? No. I mean, I’ll just say it not with pride. I don’t struggle with pornography, but books, as Becky would say, reading books, that’s your mistress. And I’ve worked with countless men and women who have had affairs. And to be honest, the reality is everyone has idols, addictions has loyalties. That put us in a bind where if we were to fully disclose how much we’re drinking or how we spent time prior to getting home from work, we wouldn’t want our spouse or our friends to know what we’re doing. That’s where we’re at. That core issue of lying almost involves either the hiding of what we’re ashamed of or lying that actually has to do with vengeance against another. Or in many ways we’re right back to two core categories that we deal with a lot, lust and anger. How do we fill our emptiness? And then how do we make people pay? And so often our deceit has to do with, I don’t want to get caught and have the consequences of behavior, actions, thoughts, feelings that are untoward in that relational realm or I feel powerful keeping secrets from you that you don’t know. I think if we can hold that part of this issue is shame. Part of the issue is power. And once we start messing with those two realms, oh, we’re in it.
Rachael: It’s interesting when you said we were going to talk about lying and deceit, I thought, oh, that’s fine. I’m kind of curious where we’ll go with this and how we’ll talk about this because I do perceive myself as someone who tends to err on the side of honesty. Okay, here’s an example. I’ll tell this story because most of my lying when I was a kid or a teenager was that sense of I’m so afraid of being bad. And the shame piece, I don’t want to feel shame that I’ll lie about something so that no one thinks I’m bad. So here’s a classic example. This will bring some levity to the conversation, but also it’s still something I feel shame around and I still feel guilt around and I still can’t believe I did it. But in high school I ran track and cross country and I was on the freshmen team and the varsity team. So I was competing in freshman conference and varsity conference, which was usually happening in same week. I was also in choir and we had a choir show, like a choir concert that we were able to travel to. And I was missing so much school and I was so stressed out about missing any more school. So a week, because I tended to be anxious. So a week before the concert, I went to the choir teachers and I lied. I said, I can’t go to the concert next week. And my plan was, I didn’t do this often. My plan was to say a family emergency thinking surely people don’t touch that. That’s like, well, who’s going to pry about that? So I said, I can’t go to the concert next week. And they said, why? I said, oh, I have a family emergency. I did not anticipate them asking what the family emergency was, so I didn’t have a plan. So when they said, well, what’s the family emergency? I said, my great grandparents broke out of a nursing home. I don’t even have great… at the time, I had one great-grandparent, one, and he lived in his house and he still drove his car. I think my aunt had been talking about her husband’s parents that had left the nursing home and they were trying to find them. But I said, my great-grandparents broke out of a nursing home. And they went, oh, interesting. Why can’t you come next week? And I said, because if we don’t find them by Tuesday, we have to go look for them.
Dan: Oh, Rachael, I’ve never heard this story. And at one level it’s so confirming you’re such a bad liar.
Rachael: It was so bad. I felt so I had to go to a math quiz that day. I was on the math team. My mom picked me up, I confessed everything to her. I so, I mean, I could not believe I had done this. I go back to school, I’m in my computer class, I can’t take it anymore. I have to go tell them. So I ask if I can go to the bathroom. I, however, had told the girl sitting next to me, I said, this thing, I’ve got to go like a confessional. So I go to the choir, teachers, I tell them I’m lying. They start laughing. Yeah, obviously we knew. Why did you feel you had to lie? Explain the stress I was in. They were like, just tell the truth. I went back to my class. Some dude was like, did you find your grandparents walking around the hallways? So apparently she had told someone, but I do know I share that more in the sense of what it got me thinking about is this realm, especially with the people we love that we don’t want to disappoint, that we don’t want to, or maybe we do. Like you’re saying, it’s like both ends of the spectrum. We either do really want to hurt someone or we don’t want to hurt someone, or we don’t want to be exposed around something. And where these lies come into play. I think I’ve gotten a lot better at lying the older I’ve gotten. But my attempts to boldface lie about things have never gone well for me. And I’ve always confessed right away. And I think we’ll get to this in our next conversation because there is that realm of not telling the truth, which is probably more where I am in my greatest war. But yeah, I think what I’m curious about is how does this play out in relationships and how does this play out in communities? And in some ways, the way I hear you talking about it is like, well, we do it. It’s something we do. And sometimes it really, we might even have good intentions. So what’s the problem?
Dan: Oh yeah, well outright clear. I like your phrase, bold faced lies. My life had a very different structure. I had to constantly lie to keep my mother from having to bear the weight of her own existence, let alone mine. And I knew I was lying, of course, I was doing so many things that were contrary to goodness. Even I knew that at that time, that required an ongoing structure of developing lies. So that bold face has both, again, back to the necessity to hide, likely due to some degree of shame, but also power. I felt powerful being able to have one life in this world and another life in the other, to be an athlete in one world and a drug dealer in another. And yet to be able to combine the two felt both arousing, powerful, enjoyable, and I think men for example, but it’s not just men, it’s women who have affairs, who have “addicted processes” with regard to pornography. But we could be talking about how people eat, how people drink, what they do was so-called free or, spare time. There are just so many realms where there’s application of this you don’t want people to know. And that sense of, I have a secret that if you knew it would change our relationship, but on the other hand, I hold it and you don’t know. I mean the whole fantasy for people of secret agents being a spy, I mean, it’s part of the cultural milieu that the ability to hold multiple realms of reality requires a certain level of power and intelligence and control and mastery. And our, in some sense, sort of that secret agent notion holds a lot of power. So when I’ve worked with people who have affairs, what will often come up in individual interactions when I’m working with marriages, I’ve had an affair. But I can’t tell my husband, well, as a therapist, I never will tell the other spouse, it’s not my role, it’s not my job, it’s not my calling. But on the other hand, I know that if this secret continues, and I’ll use the word, rot, within you, whatever you think you’re going to be able to do to restore your marriage, there will be this harbor of cancer that will eat you alive. Now on the other hand, I’ve worked with people who want to expose their lies quickly because they want absolution, they want resolve of having to bear that inner weight of knowing they have deceived. And the reality is to tell the truth is asking them to take this huge truck over a very shaky, weak bridge. So there are times where it would not be my counsel that your desire to tell the truth is actually for the truth, but instead for unaddressed shame issues. So do you see how difficult all this, if what our audience wants is a clarity, there’s no way to clarify that tensions between self-deceit, deceiving at one level to try and honor some sense of self-protection, but also caring for the other. These are just not easy matters. And yet that’s part of the tension. Can we all name that we don’t tell the truth and more than that, that there are times we lie and it’s very self-protective and in one sense arousing. And if we can do that, then we’re in a better place to be able to actually name where we are in the process. I think it’s going to be important for me to let Becky know there was wisdom to your counsel and I dismissed it and I didn’t tell you the truth as to, I don’t feel well. But on the other hand, if I were as sick as you may fear I was, I would’ve canceled. Maybe.
Rachael: I know. I’m like, we’re getting closer. We’re getting closer. Well, when we were talking about this beforehand, you brought up the famous movie line from, who was it?
Dan: Oh, I can never remember. But it’s Jack Nicholson.
Rachael: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: And I think everybody knows exactly what, I can’t remember the name of the movie, but that moment you want to do it.
Rachael: I think it is A few Good Men. I think that is the movie. But I’m not a hundred percent sure when he says you can’t handle the truth. I don’t remember the context. I think it’s in court and definitely a lot of bad things have happened.
Dan: Yeah, it’s court.
Rachael: Yeah, but there is, I mean we deal with this all the time. In some ways it’s why we do story work in groups because we don’t tell the truth about our stories. And again, there’s outright lies often to protect others too. But it’s that sense of like it is hard to bear the truth. And we either, as you have said, we bear the truth with humility and wisdom, courage or we bear the truth with a lot of self-deception, which ultimately leads to, you can’t be self deceptive and not be deceptive to other people because we exist in relationship. And I think it even gets more complex when we’re deceptive in communities. And of course we are. I mean we talk about this a lot too. We outright lie in our national stories, our stories of remembrance are not all lies, but there’s not a full truth. There is some lying and retelling of the story in ways that protect us from shame and give us power. Like everything you’ve named.
Dan: Last night, I was watching about a report that just came out about Camp Lejeune and their water. And from a period of about 1965 to about 1982, there were so many young children dying, babies dying, cancer. And it was related to foul water that had carcinogens. And the military lied. I mean, the report from the military today is absolutely clear that there was deceit about that. And again, there’s no justification. There is no way to say that the lives lost, the cancers that have grown in countless people’s lives have anything else to call this, but evil, evil was perpetrated. But here the next sentence, I know enough about the ambivalence this country holds with regard to their military. We fund and we don’t fund. And for the military to admit that their water wasn’t capable of being consumed would’ve shut down Lejeune, literally. And you can’t do that. Your military preparedness can’t do that. So the category that’s often used is this phrase, real politic, meaning we betray and lie about what we do with allies. Certainly what we saw in Afghanistan is a form of, again, American deceit. But you can also say the deceit has so many different layers, so many different legitimate concerns that you’re almost at this point of going, I can’t think about it. I can’t see where to unravel the lie that’s being told. Because go back to that Jack Nicholson phrase. You can’t. You can’t handle the truth. And what he’s saying, again, no justification of the evil that he and others committed. But the reality is none of us can handle the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Only God can. And do we have enough, again, humility to be able to acknowledge I can’t handle the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And nor can my wife, nor can my friends, nor can my community. But can we now live not with concession? Ah, let’s just acknowledge we have to lie to one another versus having this kind of almost, and I’ll use the word inappropriately, puritanical, self-righteous… we don’t lie. We always tell the truth. In this organization or in this marriage or in this friendship. And either side of that, the concession or the self-righteousness is in and of itself a form of just absolute deceit and lies. We are liars. And in that, can we be humbled by that and not self justify, but be able to say, there are so many decisions I have to make every single day about what level of truth can I bear and what level of truth can I bring into the lives of those around me? How does that, shall we say, engage your marriage?
Rachael: Well, I mean I’m sitting here mostly going, so where’s the hope and what are we supposed to do and why are we having this conversation? I think I do need us to move in some direction of how does it help us to know this is true about us, that we can’t bear the truth. And yet there is a movement toward truth. There is a movement toward honesty. And I think in some ways you’ve named the complexity well that it starts within ourselves. How can you be honest? And it’s making me think of 1 Corinthians. It’s making me think about love. It’s making me think about how Paul talks about love, especially in chapter 13. And we come to the end, this poetry around faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. But the little section before that talks about how we come to a mirror and we see our reflection dimly, even though we long to see it clearly and we long to be seen clearly and we long to see others clearly. And that someday we will fully see and be fully known and be fully seen. And so I think if we are honest, it is what our heart most longs for. And I find in my marriage, because my husband is actually fairly committed to telling the truth, and also he lies. I’m fairly committed to telling the truth and I lie. But we have these moments where what it really comes up to me is I will be kind of demanding the truth. And there is something to him, I think that’s like, can you really handle the truth? And then there are moments where I’m lie to me. So for example, I will ask him all the time, do you think we’re safe here? When I’m feeling anxious about something, especially in this crazy world and how dangerous it is, people’s obsessions with so many things. I’m like, do you think we’re safe here? Do you think? And he’s like, I don’t know, I can’t answer that for you. I’m like, this is where you lie to me. Just tell me we’re fine. He’s like, would that actually soothe you? I’m like, I dunno, maybe I could be deceived myself for a minute. I could just borrow your confidence. I don’t have it right now. There is a both/and I think. And again when I say, oh, he lies to me, he doesn’t tell me the truth. It’s where I want to know with 100% honesty, how do you feel about this thing? Or how do you see this thing? And I also don’t want to know. I want to know and I don’t want to know. And I think that’s what you’re talking about. If anything where it often leads us where integration or humility or some kind of deeper truth comes, it has to come in the places where we can enter grief, where we can actually begin to get into the stories that have necessitated in some ways a little bit of a mask or self-deception. Like why we’ve needed a certain kind of self-deception. So it is a much more daily slow, it’s attending to the small so that we can handle the big moments.
Dan: Yes, beautifully said. And again, Jesus said it as simply as this, I’m the way and the truth and the life. And to be able to say there should be no surprise that you lie and no surprise that your partner lies. If you’re shocked that you’re married to a sinner, you need to listen to Jack Nicholson. You can’t handle the truth and we need to. And that wake up now opens the possibility as what you’ve just described as grace being given and received. I told the story earlier, another podcast of having seven, eight, South American pastors arrive. And Becky wanted me to clean my office. And so that required discarding a couple hundred books that were ill shelved. And as we went through the books at one point, she literally, three or four books, she goes, these haven’t been read. And I felt shame immediately. And she said, how long have you had these books? And she’s not accusing, it’s not, it’s truly generous curiosity. And I said, I dunno. She said, you have an idea. I said, they’ve probably been here a decade. And she said, why haven’t you read them? And that opened up a discussion back to I had lied about how many books I bought. And she was like, what do books mean to you? I know what they mean, but I need to have you hear and say that again. What do books mean for you? That you order books but you don’t read them all? And I began to talk about what it felt like all my life to feel stupid, what it felt like to feel like everybody knows so much more than me. And that books give the prospect of knowing something even if I don’t have the time today to read it, it’s something I will be able to enter into tomorrow or the next morrow or wherever. It’s hope. It’s literally hope to relieve the judgment of my own: You’re an idiot. You’re stupid. You can’t do well. And so we’re sitting on the floor picking up books that need to be discarded. And I just started to weep and she so graciously came, put her arm around me and just said, some of these books need to go, but some of these books you’ve not read need to stay because they’re not just part of your idolatry, they’re part of your dreams. And I’m like, what do I do with the grace of my deceit being actually engaged with blessing? That is the work of facing that we are liars. Not to judgment, but to wonder.