One of my favorite shows of all time is Happy Endings. In typical sitcom fashion, the show follows a group of friends as they go through life and do funny things. The writing for the show is flawlessly hilarious, filled with subtle humor, and just all around wonderful. Here’s a clip for your reference. Don’t worry. I’ll wait.
Hopefully (if my diabolical plan worked) you will suddenly fall head-over-heels in love with this show and go out and buy all the DVDs you can carry. We’ll bring it back yet! Ahem.
In one of the episodes, Penny (the one who broke out into song) gets herself in a sticky situation with her annoying childhood friend, Daphne. After previously living out of town, Daphne suddenly moves back to Chicago and wants to have tea with Penny. Instead of just telling Daphne that she was busy or didn’t want to have tea with her, Penny tells her a little white lie to prevent Daphne from thinking Penny is a bad person. Then, because she cares, Daphne continues to unknowingly question Penny and Penny has to continue telling more and more lies just to satisfy Daphne.
The show, of course, plays off the humor of the situation until Daphne finds out and makes the incredibly mature remark, “If you didn’t want to have tea, why didn’t you just say so? I don’t want to have tea with someone who doesn’t want to have tea with me.” Then, the gang realizes that they went through an incredibly elaborate effort just to avoid awkwardness.
Yeah, I told you it was a sitcom.
Despite her shenanigans, Penny touches on an interesting topic about honesty, lies and the impact they have on our relationships. She shows how easy it is to nonchalantly tell lies, how difficult it is in our lives to keep a series of lies going, and how lies are really the symptoms of a much deeper problem.
This brings me to my post on honesty.
No doubt if you’re reading this you’ve already heard the cheesy, feel-good spiel about honesty. “Honesty is the best policy.” “Always tell the truth!” or some other trite phrase. Today, I’m not going to talk to you about the good vibes you get from being honest nor will I try to scare you into always telling the truth. I hope to be a bit more realistic about the impact of true honesty and how we present ourselves to others. With that, you may read on.
I Just Want to Be Liked
One of the insightful things Penny touches on when rationalizing her lie to Daphne is that she “just wants her to think she’s nice.”
Penny does what almost everyone does. We want people to see our good side. We want them to see a perfect version of us without flaws, so we go through tremendous effort to present ourselves in the best light possible. We do this all the time with resumes, first dates, and high school reunions. It’s why you admit that you were mean because of a lack of sleep and not because of your personality. You were late to the meeting not because you left late but because traffic was piling up. You got a C on that essay because your professor is mean not because you wrote it last minute.
We have this innate desire to have people like us, respect us, and love us. We think that the best way for this to happen is to show a perfect picture of yourself that you assume people will like, respect, and love more than your real self. You fight hard, really hard for people to see this great picture of you that when you ultimately fall short from this picture a relational tension is created.
You respond to this tension by rationalizing the issue away, growing anxious or shifting the blame.
We rationalize away our faults all the time, no? We were too busy to send a card. We were having a really bad day so we snapped at everyone. Do you hear the way that guy talks? Kindness is too good for him. It’s not really my fault. Even though we know that we made a conscious decision to do something or not, we look to outside factors that could explain our unflattering behavior. We hope it’s enough to convince people that we’re basically good. We are just surrounded by bad things!
Some of us are also guilty of a more dangerous version of rationalization. Instead of pretending that the sin was out of our control, we pretend the sin isn’t a sin. Is angrily exploding on someone really that bad if they deserved it? Is ignoring my neighbor who’s battling depression really bad if he should just work through it on his own? Is cheating on my spouse really bad if they don’t talk to me like they used to?
Rationalization is bad, bad, bad. Take your thoughts captive.
In the interest of honesty I will begin with some self-disclosure.
I used to have a BIG problem with anxiety. I would over-think and over-analyze everything constantly. Before I could close my eyes and dream, I would have to fret and to worry about the interactions I had throughout the day and where I failed to measure up. I would beat myself up when I failed to present myself in the most ideal light. I would stress out over emails, text messages, and phone calls. It was awful.
Thankfully, I overcame a lot of my social anxiety. I learned to meditate and to relax my mind. I taught myself how to evaluate the importance of events and when I should let stuff go. I learned how to stop the stinkin’ thinkin’. Unfortunately, I still do catch myself over analyzing and over thinking events in my life when I interact with others. I learned quickly that I had a picture in my head of who I wanted to be. This picture was the perfect person, so when I fell short from perfection (read: all the time) I would panic, fret, and worry about it.
Even when I would admit to falling short, woe to anyone that would agree with me. What I wanted was everyone to disagree and to pat me on the back for my amazing humility. When people agreed that I did fall short, I turned to shifting the blame.
The last mistake we often make when falling short is shifting the blame. I blew up at my wife because she poked and prodded me until I got mad. She knows how angry I can get! She’s lived with me long enough to know my short fuse! Or how dare they say that I need to work on my sin when I see them committing far more sin than I do?
Ultimately, I am accountable to God alone. (Romans 14:10-12) There is no one standing next to me to accept blame for my problems. There is no one there to provoke me. There is no one there to compare me to.
Acceptance and Transparency
When we accept our faults and we are completely and fully known to people, we walk in a confidence that we couldn’t walk in before. By keeping nothing hidden from close friends, we don’t have to wonder if they truly love us for us because they do! We don’t have to worry that someone might find out our deep dark secret because there are no secrets.
We don’t have to pretend to be perfect (we’re not), and can, through God’s Holy Grace, be sanctified as we open ourselves up to criticism and embrace an attitude of holiness.