I am a huge fan of singer/songwriter Billy Joel. While part of my obsession with him lies with the fac that I have played the piano since I was a young child, I think the main crux of my infatuation is I love the nuggets of wisdom he provides in so many of his songs.
Take the song Honesty. The chorus is so lyrically simple but it is that simplicity that actually makes it that much more poignant.
This afternoon I came across a recent rendition of the movie And Then There Were None. The story, originally written by Agatha Christie, is based on the nursery rhyme Ten Little Soldier Boys or as we know it here in the states, Ten Little Indians. It tells the story of these 10 individuals who are all lured to an island under false pretenses and are then killed off one by one in ways that align with each couplet of the poem.
At its basis, this story is a warning that the lies we tell and the skeletons we keep in our closets will eventually be known and come back to haunt us in one way or another. For many in the Christian faith, this means that when we die, our entire life history will be played out before us as we are judged by God.
How terrifying is that! I mean, even if you have been basically a very good, honest person, I can pretty much guarantee there is nobody – and I do mean nobody – reading this today that hasn’t told a lie.
You know it’s true.
You tell that friend of yours that the dress she is wearing is lovely on her when you really think it looks like a tent. You lie when you tell another that the dinner you were served was delicious when in reality, it was tasteless and you wished you hadn’t wasted either the time or the calories ingesting it. We would typically call these “little white lies” and consider them a kindness to others. After all, nobody wants to be told they look like they’re wearing a tent or that they should never consider cooking for another human being again as long as they live, so we lie.
But here’s the problem. Dishonesty becomes a pattern. Getting away with one little white lie gives us the courage to tell another, larger lie, and so on and for some, it really never ends.
For some people, every piece of who they are and what they do has been planned out meticulously around a core of untruth and the slightest miscalculation will bring the entire structure of their existence crashing down around them and all that know them. Having been – for lack of a better phrase – a victim of such people in my life, I can tell you the resulting carnage is life-altering.
If this is the case, why is honesty so hard to find? Wouldn’t it be easier and better if we told the truth regardless of if it’s hurtful or not?
Many would suggest this is actually not possible because the world in which we live is based on the duality of good and evil- in order to have one, we must have the other. In other words, in order to have honesty we must have dishonesty. The key, then, is to choose the side of honesty once we understand what dishonesty is, and since this knowledge comes to us all at a very young age, it would be expected that we could choose to be completely honest for a majority of our lives…but we don’t..and here is why I think this is true.
By telling even the slightest of untruths we are able to create an identity of ourselves that is somehow better than who we think we really are. With one little lie, we can be better athletes, kinder people, harder workers, and on and on. Whatever it is that you don’t like about yourself, all you have to do is “color” that reality a bit with something else and suddenly you become more of who you wish you were than who you really are.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying to yourself, “when I told that lie, I was just protecting that person’s feelings. Isn’t that what good people do?”
I would have to say, sadly, no.
I have come to believe that the essential reason people are dishonest with others is because they are dishonest with themselves. Even in the case of the dress or the food, the basis there is an internal dishonesty before it becomes an external one. I tell myself I lied to my friend about the way she looks in the dress because I don’t want to hurt her feelings when the reality may be that I’m jealous that she looks prettier in it or that I would or perhaps I tell her that because I would rather she go out in public looking a little less attractive than to deal with the drama of her self-criticism that would arise were I to say the truth.
The problem here is that being brutally honest with ourselves is far more difficult than being honest with others but in the end, this personal dishonesty is what leads many of us to places of discontent, sadness, depression and self-loathing. By altering the truth about ourselves to please others, we become someone other who we were created to be and this makes us feel alone and broken. The only solution is to dig through all of those fallacies and rediscover who we each are truly supposed to be.
We – each of us individually and as a society – need to be honest. We ache for it and must find a way back to it; a way back to honesty about our relationships and our lives as a whole. This may mean we have to acknowledge things about ourselves that we find truly unpleasant like acknowledging that you don’t like your job because it makes you work harder than you really want to or realizing that you are unhappy with your marriage because truth be told, you are homosexual and have been trying to pretend this isn’t true.
Being honest can be a painful, gut-wrenching experience. We learn this at a very young age and spend a good deal of our lives proving it to ourselves over and over again. But if you ever get to the point in your life where you are willing to turn Billy Joel’s words back toward yourself and realize that “mostly what you need from you” is honesty, you open that door to happiness unlike any you have witnessed before.
The question is…will you choose to open that door to honesty or choose instead to be one of the ten little solider boys?