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When I was a child a near-by neighbor had a rolling front yard.  When I was seven I used to wait until dark and then go and lay down just below the crest of the hill.  It was a great spot from which to view the sky.  I would do this during the summer months’ clear nights.  We could go out at night (until 9pm) as long as we were within shouting distance from home; unless we were at a friends’ home – generally when that occurred one of the friends parents or older siblings would walk us home (ah, those were the days).

One night I was lying on the gentle slopping rise and my friend Danny had joined me.  I was asking some essential questions: Why does the moon change its shape?  Where do the stars come from and where do they go?  How many stars are there up there?  How far away is the moon?  How high is up? [One of my favorites].  I remember asking this question: Where do we come from?  Danny, who always attempted to answer my questions became thoughtful.  He then intoned with great conviction: That’s an easy one to answer.  You and I came from St. Agnes Hospital!  As far as I knew he was correct.

Gentle reader, if you have been reading my postings these many years you know that I love questions.  There are, as we know, many types of questions.  The ones that I revisit over and over are the Essential, Deeper Questions.  Here are a few of them: Who am I?  Where did I come from? Why am I here?  Am I a spiritual being who has, for a brief time, a physical manifestation or am I a physical being who might or might not have a spiritual manifestation?  Why do humans die?  Who is ‘God’?  Why do we humans choose to limit God and yet claim that God is limitless?  Many of these, and others, are truly baffling.

Poets, sages and mystics attempt to help us by capturing in words our sense of bafflement.  The Bengali poet, Tagore asks: ‘What was the mystery that made me open up like a little bud in the forest at midnight?’  One of my favorite Sufi poets, Rumi, cries out: ‘The Lover visible, the Beloved invisible/Whose crazy idea was this?’ 

Alas, none of our human or divine revelations arrive with footnotes or clear explanations.  The Sufi’s remind us that ‘Of knowledge, [God] has given you but a little.  This reminds me that I am not expected to know all the answers.

On the one hand it is futile to search for definitive answers to life’s Essential, Deeper Questions.  What is fruitful, I have learned, is to simply be present with the Mystery of the questions.  As the great German Poet Rilke advises: ‘To live the questions themselves.’  Someday we might live into the answers.

The Mystics advise that we perfume our hearts with awe and wonder and the delight of the Mystery will awaken something more essential and deeper in us.

Can we mere humans expect to obtain a more essential and deeper insight into the mysteries of Life?

Consider Hinduism.  Hinduism teaches that there are four stages in the life of a human: student, householder, forest dweller, and wandering ascetic.

In the forest dwelling stage, husband and wife, after fulfilling their duties retire physically or metaphorically into a forest to ponder the meaning and purpose of their lives.  What was it all about?  Becomes one of their Essential, Deeper Questions.

Flashes of intuitive perception and glimpses of secrets beyond the veil were revealed to ‘ordinary’ men and women who had retired to the forest and dwelt there for some time in deep reflection.

The collective wisdom of these ‘forest dwellers’ forms a crucial part of Hindu Scripture.  For us, too, whether we go to the forest, the mountains, the ocean, or a quiet place in our own hears, insights will emerge, veils will be lifted, if we would only be still and listen.

Alas, for we who are addicted to busyness and speed and the short-term, withdrawing into the forest and dwelling there is a challenge (think: invitation) that we seldom choose to embrace.  Now, we also know, that a person who is ‘forced’ to go to the forest (that dark place that we fear) will, at times, find that dwelling there is truly a blessing (think: the person with terminal cancer, or the person who has become disabled in certain ways).

Gentle Reader, what are some of the Essential, Deeper Questions that you have held or that you continue to hold?  Are you ‘living the questions themselves’?  Rumi reminds us that ‘the answer is inside the question.’

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.  Cleverness might be opinion, and bewilderment, naked vision. –Rumi

 

 

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My father never told me how to live. . . he lived and I watched.

Here is a photo of my Father and Mother on the day they celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary; they were married 65 years and my father died in January, 2000 at age 91.

Mom & Dad 60th Wedding Anniversary - Copy

In honor of my father I have decided to share a few ‘remembrances and stories’ – the ones that have made a lasting impression upon me as I watched my father live his life.  Gentle Reader, I invite you to step aside today and think about your father and/or ‘father-figures’ and reflect upon the remembrances and stories that emerge for you.

My father was a person who spoke few words.  Here is a remembrance and a story.

As an ‘old time’ small city/country doctor he was almost always ‘On Call.’  He would often, it seemed to me, answer the phone in the middle of the night and then get up, get dressed and drive to a family’s home (in the city or in the country – I grew up in Wisconsin amidst the town-folk and the farm-folk).  Often when he would return home or at times before he left our house he would come to one of our bed rooms (there were six kids, my brother Steve and I shared a room for years).

Upon entering our bed room – or later on when it was ‘my’ bedroom – my father would sit on the edge of the bed and place his hand on my forehead.  He would keep it there – as if he were praying– and then after a short time he would gently pat my forehead and leave.

Sitting here this morning I can still feel the warmth of his hand upon my forehead; my eyes are tearing up as I feel the warmth of his love.  My father and I never talked about this – it felt, still feels, too sacred to talk about.  The sacred cannot be verbalized; there are no words that can even begin to capture the sacred.

Once in a while my father would wake one of us up and invite us to go with him as he made his ‘house call.’  I was eight years old.  My father woke me one night and asked if I wanted to go with him.  I don’t recall anyone of us ever saying ‘no’ for the experience provided us ‘alone time’ with our father.  We drove, in silence, out to a farm house.  As my father opened the car door he announced that ‘I am here to help a mid-wife deliver a baby.’  (An Aside: I knew about mid-wives and the tremendous service they provided the folks in our community).

I sat in the car.  I dozed a bit.  A number of hours later (it was still dark outside) my father emerged from the farm house.  He was followed by the farmer who was carrying a bushel of vegetables (beans, peas, potatoes etc.).  My father opened the trunk and the farmer placed the bushel in the trunk.  He shook the farmer’s hand – the smile on the farmer’s face said it all.

After my father settled in the car I asked him: ‘What’s in the bushel basket?’  My father’s response was, as was his wont, short. ‘It is my payment!’

What!  I remember looking at my father and saying: ‘You’re a doctor don’t you get paid a lot of money?’  My father paused.  Turned to me.  He looked at me intensely.  He said: ‘You don’t help others simply for the money.’  He paused and then added: ‘The health of the baby is payment enough!’

As an old-time family doc, my father served others for more than 60 years.  I watched him serve.  I learned.

Thanks Dad.

The liar’s punishment is not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else. –G.B. Shaw

THE LIAR (Continued and Concluded)…

Bias skews all judgment, but never more so than in the search for good reasons to deceive.  Liars are apt to overestimate their own good will, high motives, and chances to escape detection; it also leads to overconfidence.

Bias causes liars often fail to consider the many ways to which deception can spread and give rise to practices very damaging to human communities.  The veneer of social trust is often thin.  As lies spread – by imitation (think: the increasing number of those seeking our vote are now lying with impunity – lying, it seems, has become the new norm), or in retaliation, or to forestall suspected deception – trust is damaged (an understatement to be sure).

TRUST is a social good.  TRUST is a virtue that we have all been entrusted with.  When trust is damaged, the Community and the Culture suffers and when it becomes the norm to break trust then societies falter and fail.

Sadly, today we live at a time when the harm done to trust by Liars can be seen, if not experienced, first-hand.  Consider just one element: Confidence in public officials continues to be eroded.  This erosion is a natural response to the uncovering of practices of deceit.  Consider all of the trust that has been broken in the name of ‘national security’ – the latest, infants, toddlers, young children and adolescents being literally torn from the arms of their mothers and sent to detention centers (the images are at minimal gut-wrenching).

These practices engender distrust and feed our dis-ease.  They are entered upon not just the officials but by countless others, high and low, in our government and outside it.  ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ are ultimately responsible.

Are we fear-full of the harm done by the Liar?  Are we fear-full of the harm that lies bring to all of us?  Consider the following (Revelations:22.15): These others must stay outside [Heaven]: …everyone of false life and false speech.

It is the deep-seated concern of the multitude which speaks here.  Consider, if you will, Gentle Reader, that there could be few contrasts greater than that between this statement and the self-confident, individualistic view by Machiavelli (and held, it seems, by many of our elected officials).  Machiavelli writes: Men are so simple and so ready to obey present necessities, that one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.

‘WE THE PEOPLE.’ who allow ourselves to be deceived. are ultimately response-able, responsible and accountable.

 

 

Truthfulness in statements which cannot be avoided is the formal duty of an individual to everyone, however great may be the disadvantage accruing to himself or to another. –Kant

Good morning Gentle Reader.  I concluded my last post with a question: Must we conclude that every lie has this affect? [‘This effect’ has to do with the harm done to the Liar and to the Deceived.]

What about those who tell what we call ‘White Lies’?  Does lying hurt them in the same way?  As I reflect upon this I find it difficult to defend this notion.  I agree that no one trivial lie undermines the Liar’s integrity.  However the issue for Liars is that they tend to see most of their lies in this graceful light.  Thus they underestimate – often vastly underestimate – the risks involved.  There is a risk in many lies – the risk of harm done to the Liar and to the Deceived.

Why might this be so?  Well, Gentle Reader, consider this: The risks of harm are increased simply because so few lies are solitary, one-off lies.  It is easy to tell a lie AND it is challenging to tell only one lie.  Consider that the ‘first lie’ must be quilted together with another lie and then with another lie until a solid quilt is constructed.  More lies are needed and so is more ‘mending.’

The strains on the Liar increase with each lie.  Lying also requires that the Liar develop an excellent memory in order to keep one’s untruths woven together; a single thread that breaks might cause the whole Liar’s Quilt to come undone.  Consider the sheer energy required in order to keep one ‘Lying Quilt’ intact.

We have also learned that after the first lies are put into the world that others come more easily.  Spiritual and Psychological barriers are worn down and eventually replaced with the Liar’s Barriers.  In addition, the ability to make moral distinctions erodes.  The Liar’s perception of his/her chances of being caught will also warp.

The Liar’s behavior is also affected, often in subtle ways.  Others find themselves trusting the Liar less even if the Liar has not been outed.  Highly intuitive people will notice this erosion of credibility before others – and although they won’t understand it they will trust their intuition.

Of course, it is inevitable that the more one lies the more likely he/she will be outed as a Liar.  When outed, the Liar – most Liars it seems – will regret the damage done to his/her credibility and to his/her integrity.

AN ASIDE:  The word ‘integrity’ comes from the same roots which have formed ‘intact’ and ‘untouched.’  ‘Integrity’ is used especially often in relation to truthfulness and fair dealing and reflects, it seems to me, the view that by lying one hurts oneself.  The notion of the self-destructive aspects of doing wrong is part of all faith, philosophic and humanistic traditions.  Consider one: The Chinese Sage, Mencius.  ‘Every man has within himself these four beginnings [of humanity, righteousness, decorum, wisdom].  The man who considers himself incapable of exercising them is destroying himself.’

To be continued next time. . .

A liar begins with making falsehood appear like truth, and ends with making truth itself appear like falsehood. –William Shenstone, c.1750

Liars.  Consider, if you will Gentle Reader, that for Liars the choice to lie might be a challenging one.  For example, they might believe, with Machiavelli, that ‘great things’ have been done by those who have ‘little regard for good faith’ [Think: some of our elected Officials].  On the other hand, they may trust that they can make wise use of the power that lies bring.  Some will have confidence in their own ability to distinguish the times when good reasons support their decision to lie.

Paradoxically, or is it ironically, Liars share with those they deceive the desire not to be deceived.  To put it another way, their choice to lie is one which they would like to reserve for themselves while insisting that others be truth-full.  They want the benefits of lying without the risk of being lied to.  Some extend this, free-ride, to their family, or close friends, or members of their ‘tribe’ [Think: Church, Club, Party, etc.].  We will be honest with one another while lying with impunity to the ‘other(s)’.

There are also the Liars who lie because they are lied to.  The fact that the other lies excuses their lying (in their own eyes, at least).  I call this the pre-teen approach to lying: Johnny lied to me so I can lie to Johnny.

An unintended consequence of ‘free-rider lying’ is that if enough of us adopt this strategy for lying the time will come when all will feel pressed to lie to survive.  How close are we, as a Culture, to ‘lying’ as a ‘Cultural Norm’?

Speaking of unintended consequences.  In the benevolent self-evaluation by the liar of the lies that might be told, the disadvantages and harm wrought are almost always overlooked.  Liars usually weigh only the immediate harm to others from the lie against the benefits they want to achieve.  This ‘self-deception’ ignores or underestimates at least two additional types of harm: the harm that lying does to the liars themselves and the harm done to the general level of trust and social cooperation. Both are cumulative and both are difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.

How is the Liar affected by his own lies?  In order to explore this, briefly, I will assume that the Liar has a ‘conscience’ and ‘feels some guilt or remorse’ when he or she tells a lie.  Given this: the very fact that the Liar knows that he/she has lied, first of all, affects the Liar.  The Liar might regard the lie as an inroad on his/her integrity.  The Liar certainly looks at those lied to with a new caution.  And if ‘they’ find out that the other has lied, the Liar knows that his/her credibility and the respect for his/her word have been, at minimum, damaged.

Here is one example.  If a high school Civics-Government class was required these days this would be a prime example for students (sadly, neither are required and so we have raised two or three generations that don’t know – or care about – their own history).

When Adlai Stevenson (Who is this guy you ask?  See what I mean by my previous paragraph?)… When Adlai Stevenson had to go before the United Nations in 1961 to tell falsehoods about the United States’ role in the Bay of Pigs (What was this all about you ask), he changed the course of his life.  He may not have known beforehand that the message he was asked to convey was untrue; but merely to carry the burden of being the means of such deceit must have been difficult.  To lose the confidence of his peers in such a public way was harder still.  [AN ASIDE: Even after 57 years I remember his appearance for it was required viewing in our Civics-Government Class – I was a senior in high school.  I also remember our in-class discussions – lively, passionate, searching-seeking engagements].

Must we conclude that every lie has this affect?

We will pick up with this question next time.

 

 

…officious lies, as well as all others, are an abomination to the God of Truth. –John Wesley

This morning, Gentle Reader, we will briefly explore ‘Lying’ from the perspective of the deceived.

Most of us humans who learn that they have been lied to when it comes to something they deem important experience the pain of betrayal and become resentful, disappointed and suspicious; trust is bent, broken or shattered.  They also look back on past interactions with a questioning attidue.

The manipulation of the lie, they come to see, kept them from making informed choices; they were, in effect, unable to choose actions that they would have chosen had they not been lied to.

It is true, Gentle Reader, that personal, informed choice is not the only kind available to them.  They may decide to abandon choosing for themselves and let the other(s) decide for them – think: guardians, advisors or elected officials.  They may even decide to abandon choice based upon information of a conventional nature and trust/rely instead on the movement of the stars or by throwing dice against a wall or to seek out soothsayers or oracles (of course, these last two folks never provide us with direct answers and as a result a great deal of bother has occurred – both history and great literature reminds us, over and over again).

One’s alternatives ought to be personally chosen and not surreptitiously imposed by lies or other forms of manipulation.  I still believe that most of us humans would resist loss of control over which choices we want to delegate to others and this requires that we are aided by the best information available to us (think of the power of ‘fake news’ and its impact upon our freedom to choose).

Experience has taught us, continues to teach us, the consequences when others choose to deceive us – even for ‘our own good.’

What about the ‘trivial lies’?  Well, we know that many lies are trivial AND we also know that we have no way to judge, in the moment, which lies are trivial and which are not.  Add to this that we have no confidence that liars will restrict themselves to telling trivial lies, we, over time, become wary of all deception or worse, we assume deception will occur (think: How many of us trust the words of the politician seeking our vote).

Now I can hear someone saying: But only one person was lied to.  Consider that though only one person was lied to that many others might well be harmed as a result.  Recently an elected official – a Mayor – was lied to about the quality of the drinking water and as a result many people suffered when they drank contaminated water.

The perspective of the deceived is shared by all of those who experience the consequences of the lie – whether or not they have been lied to.

We need both knowledge and freedom to choose and to act if we are going to be able to make informed decisions.  Paradoxically, or is it ironically, the liar would agree with this (ask any politician and he or she would agree with this).  Deception – lying – denies the one being deceived of both: knowledge and freedom to choose.

Deception can be – often is – coercive.  When it succeeds the deceiver becomes more powerful.  Thus, it is clearly unreasonable to assert that people should be able to lie with impunity whenever they want to do so.  To up the ante, it would be unreasonable, as well, to assert such a right even in the more restricted circumstances where the liars claim a ‘good reason’ for lying.

This is especially true because lying so often accompanies every ‘other’ form of wrongdoing, from murder to bribery to tax fraud to theft of all kinds.

In refusing to condone such a right to decide when to lie and when not to, we are therefore trying to protect ourselves against lies which help to execute or cover up all other wrongful acts.

For this reason, the perspective of the deceived supports the statement by Aristotle: Falsehood is in itself mean and culpable, and truth noble and full of praise.

Consider this, Gentle Reader, that there is an initial imbalance in the evaluation of truth-telling and lying.  Lying requires a ‘reason,’ while truth-telling does not.  ‘Lying’ must be excused; reasons must be produced, in any one case, to show why a particular lie is not ‘mean and culpable.’

This leads us to the question: What about the perspective of the Liar?

A great man – what is he?  He rather lies than tells the truth; it requires more spirit and will. –Nietzsche

Since I began this ‘series’ focusing on ‘LYING’ I have been thinking about ‘Two Perspectives’: The Deceived and the Liar.  I finally have enough thoughts together and so I will begin today focusing a bit upon each of these perspectives.

Consider, gentle reader, that we postmodern folks have nearly perfected two forms of deliberate assault on one another: Deceit and Violence.  Both are designed to coerce the other into acting against his/her will.   The harm that befalls victims via violence can also come to them via deceit.  Deceit requires more cleverness for it works on belief as well as action.  I am thinking of Othello.  Few would have dared to attempt to subdue him by force but he was brought to choose to destroy himself and Desdemona through falsehood.

Deception, like violence, can be employed in self-defense, especially when ‘survival’ is at stake.  Deception can also be trivial – think: ‘white lies.’  Nevertheless its potential for coercion and destruction is such that human society – any human society – could scarcely function without some degree of truthfulness when it comes to speech and action. [AN ASIDE: I know, as well as you do, gentle reader, that ‘truthful statements’ can themselves be coercive and destructive; they can be used as weapons to wound]

There must be a minimal degree of trust in communication for language and action to be more than clanging cymbals.  This is why some level of truthfulness must be an essential part of any human society, no matter its commitment to the observance of other moral principles.  Samuel Johnson once noted that even the devils themselves do not lie to one another since their society – Hell – could not subsist without truth (talk about a paradox).

A human society whose members could not distinguish ‘truthful messages’ from ‘deceptive messages’ would implode.  Prior to the general implosion, individual survival would be at risk, a trickle would become a ripple, a ripple would become a wave and the waves would come together to form a tsunami that would wash us all away. [AN ASIDE: Consider that our ‘Culture’ today is being eroded by the waves of ‘deception’ that wash over us each day; there are so many that we are becoming immune to their coercive effect]

All of my choices, of your choices, of our choices depend on our estimates of what is ‘the truth.’  These estimates must in turn rely upon information from the ‘other(s).’  Lies distort information and therefore our situation as we perceive it, as well as our choices.  A lie not only leads us astray, it injures us in untold ways.

We believe, in our Culture, that ‘knowledge gives power.’  Lies, then, impact the distribution of power.  Lies add to the ‘power’ of the deceiver and diminish the power of the one being deceived.  Lies alter our ability to choose.  Think about this gentle reader: Lies alter our ability to choose!

A lie, first, may misinform (think: Fake News) so as to obscure some ‘objective,’ something the deceived person wanted to do or obtain (think: information about a candidate in order to make an informed voting decision).  The ‘objective’ is no longer attainable.  The deception may give birth to a new objective – as when Iago deceived Othello into wanting to kill Desdemona. [AN ASIDE: Today, more than ever before, it might benefit us to read and study Shakespeare’s great tragedy: ‘Othello’]

Lies eliminate or obscure relevant ‘alternatives.’  Lies also foster the belief that there are more alternatives available when in fact the alternatives are limited.  Lies can also lead to the loss of confidence in what might well be the ‘best alternative.’  Lies alter the ‘cost-benefits’ and obscure the ‘unintended consequences’.  Think: the immense toll of life and human welfare from the United States’ intervention in Vietnam came in part from the deception + self-deception by those who fed overly optimistic information to the decision-makers.

Deception can make a situation falsely certain as well as falsely uncertain.  Deception will impact the objectives, the alternatives, the risks, the benefits and the consequences (intended and unintended).  Deception is a major way that ‘they’ gain power over ‘them’ and impact the choices open to the deceived.

Deception can help initiate actions one would otherwise never have chosen and deception can prevent action by obscuring the necessity for choice.  This is the essence of ‘cover up’ – creating apparent normality in order to avert suspicion.  Deception becomes the norm!

We human beings are, by nature, imperfect.  Thus we – each of us – relies on deception.  We deceive in order to get out of trouble, to save face, to avoid hurting another person’s feelings, etc.  Some of us use it more consciously in order to manipulate the other and gain an upper hand.

I believe that, for the most part, each of us is aware of the threat lies impose; we are aware of the suffering that follows – both to the deceived and to the deceiver.  Given this, I leave us this morning with this question: Why are such radically different evaluations given to the effects of deception, depending on whether the point of view is that of the liar or the one lied to?

This leads us to explore our topic: ‘Lying – Two Perspectives: The Deceived & The Liar.’