Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Keep It To Yourself

Your mom makes you your favorite meal, the one you really dislike intensely. You're not sure how, but somewhere along the way you so overcompensated for your distaste that you managed to morph the dreck before you into your favorite.

How's that happen? First time mom makes it she's really excited about her new concoction. You want to encourage her to keep experimenting with her cooking or you don't want to dampen her enthusiasm, so you lie.

Mom is heartened that someone really loves her new creation. She makes the same meal the next time you come to dinner... and the next... and then, well, pretty much any time you come by. Your lie designed to encourage takes on a life of its own; it becomes a secret. Now mom's so pleased with how much you love her cooking, that you haven't the heart to tell her otherwise.

Perhaps your life is full of secrets: big secrets that you strive to keep hidden; little secrets that you almost forget until something reminds you of them; fleeting secrets that pass as unspoken thoughts.

Keeping secrets is not inherently good or bad, but it can get expensive. If you find yourself perpetually tired, it may not be lack of sleep; it may be all the secrets you're keeping.

The secret is a close cousin of the lie, a lie that has taken on a life of its own. Most lies are said and gone. However, sometimes a lie will get stuck on the way out. It comes back, repeatedly. When it does, voila! Your lie has become a secret.

Lies are funny little creatures. You got your lies of commission (the deliberate acts of deceit) and your lies of omission (the words you simply never say). And believe it or not, all lies spring from good intentions; planning a surprise party, not wanting to hurt someone's feelings, not wanting to get into trouble, not wanting to deal with something, and so on. (Sometimes the good intentions are self-directed.)

The cool thing about lies and secrets is what they tell us about ourselves. If you dissect a lie, at its core you'll always find a judgement. In terms of grapefruits, the lie would be the tough, protective skin and the judgment the juicy fruit inside. Lies make it easy to find judgments. Whenever you find yourself wanting to lie (avoiding saying something or actively denying something that you know is true), you've tripped over a judgment.

If being aware of when you're lying is still a stretch, here's another cool indicator: every time you struggle with how to say something (that dress makes you look fat, are you undergoing chemo, your playing was way off in that last song, you are definitely not an autumn, was that smell you) you're a) precariously close to lying and b) judging the crap out of them or their situation. You might attribute your loss for words to being inarticulate, but fact is you've got plenty of words. They're racing non-stop through your mind; it's just that all them sound so... bad. When this happens, forget about finding the right words and deal with your judgments.

In the moment, your judgments make you uncomfortable so you: a) say nothing, b) say something you don't believe, or c) blurt out what you feel so uncomfortable saying. None of these approaches works very well; none resolves your discomfort; some exacerbate it. The discomfort leads to avoidance, avoidance of people, avoidance of situations. This in turn leads to more discomfort and lying.

To be clear, you're likely judging the situation and not the person. I can't tell you how many people will go quiet and not know what to say around situations that they consider dyer. Someone loses a loved, someone finds out he has cancer, someone's child is diagnosed with autism, and you don't know what to say. It's the judgment: the judgment that the situation is bad, terrible, awful.

If you lose the judgment that the situation is awful, the words will flow.

To flip all this into the affirmative, if you want to be someone who can say what she thinks in any situation and do so in a manner that feels comfortable and solid, stop looking for the right words and start working through your judgments transforming bad to good.

Happy Tuesday,

PS Sometimes asking whether or not someone is judging will lead to a false negative (i.e., "I'm not judging"). A much better benchmark is to ask someone to articulate the opposite or positive judgment, e.g., "I think it's great that he weighs three-hundred-eighty pounds". If you can't comfortably state the positive judgment, then you're still judging negatively.

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