Nephew: Right! Lay it on me, brother!
Uncle: What the hell are you talking about?
Nephew: What’s another way to feel vulnerable so that we can develop the feeling that whatever happens, we will handle it?
Uncle: Oh. Well. One way is to not lie to ourselves.
Nephew: How is that possible?
Uncle: A person generous with their money might, for example, conclude they are kind. It’s an easy and convenient assumption to make. It may even be right. But there are other possibilities: perhaps the person feels unworthy of having money. Or, they might feel responsible for other people’s problems, and feel anxious, and being generous would help relieve their anxiety. Or, they might be unable to refuse a request, fearful of being perceived as selfish.
Uncle: So, when we are at the mercy of motives we don’t fully understand, we can’t truly know who we are, and we can’t always make the right decisions. We might drift through life, buffeted by our misconceptions, and only dimly aware of what is going on. However, when we face the truth head on, it slowly becomes easier to see, and easier to accept. We then lose our fear of it, and begin to make sharper decisions.
‘If you find that you drink an unhealthy amount, you might tell yourself that you are choosing to relax and unwind with a few drinks after work and you just got caught up in the moment, but maybe the real choice you have made is to deny your alcoholic tendencies or to shorten your life expectancy.’
Domonique Bertolucci, in his book, ‘The Happiness Code’.
Nephew: So what happens when the generous person discovers their real motive?
Uncle: It doesn’t necessarily mean they will be less generous or less helpful, but it does mean they will be aware of the forces driving them. That’s important. It’s important for all of us if we want our life to run smoothly.
‘When we don’t want to see the truth we’ll lie to ourselves. These lies are the toughest to spot because they are our own. . . . Only the exceptional person is willing to look at what he doesn’t want to see, listen to what he doesn’t want to hear, and believe that which he wishes would not exist.’
David J. Lieberman, in his book, ‘Never Be Lied to Again.’
Nephew: Alright then, I’ll be the mug: how can we avoid lying to ourselves? Give me the nuts and bolts of it.
Uncle: Don’t make excuses. Don’t look for loopholes. If you pirate music, don’t justify your actions with excuses; admit to yourself you are a thief.
Uncle: Another good way to avoid lying to ourselves is to not lie about ourselves. When we lie to someone about ourselves we also lie to ourselves. After all, if we feel the need to hide the truth from someone it means we ourselves are not fully accepting the truth.
Uncle: And, avoid pretention. Don’t pretend it’s a great bottle of wine when you have no idea. Avoid counterfeits. Don’t buy a fake item to impress. Forget the fake watch and flash sunglasses.
Uncle: On some level you will know you are not the sophisticate you pretend to be. A voice inside you will be whispering, ‘Phoney’.
Nephew: Not necessarily! What are you suggesting? Should we buy the real thing?
Uncle: No. People who wear the ‘real’ thing are also lying to themselves. On some level they fear they can’t impress people with the qualities they have as a person, so they try to buy credibility. But on some level they receive the ‘phoney’ whisper as well. Worse, they are giving themselves the message that as they are, they are not good enough.
Nephew: What then?
Uncle: If you need a watch, buy a basic watch. Avoid pretensions. If you feel vulnerable as a result, you’re on the right path.
Nephew: But if you just buy a basic watch, you are also giving yourself the message, ‘I’m not good enough’. If you really thought you were good enough, you’d buy the classy watch.
Uncle: A fancy watch is to tell other people you’re good enough. If you feel the need to convince them then you’re also trying to convince yourself.
Nephew: If I am in a high-power job and need to impress, having a cheap watch will undermine me.
Uncle: True. I guess if it’s part of the uniform it’s understandable.
Nephew: How gracious of you. Is being cool really a bad message?
Uncle: Being cool or looking cool?
Nephew: . . . ?
Uncle: If you truly are cool you probably don’t need to display how cool you are.
Nephew: What rubbish. Just because you, dear uncle, have less charisma than wet toilet paper, doesn’t mean the rest of us should not look cool. You said yourself our job is to build ourselves a person, and one big way to do that is to focus on our strengths. If we can look cool and impress, why not go for it?
Uncle: Looking cool may give you confidence and popularity, but can you fully accept yourself as you are while searching for a way to impress?
Nephew: Sure! Besides, if we need to ‘build ourselves a person’ as you put it, then accepting ourselves as we are will only leave the job half finished. We only really begin to blossom when we experiment with who we are and extend our boundaries.
Uncle: Do you really want to impress people who are so easily impressed?
Nephew: People want to be impressed! Some of the big names in music went out of their way to impress. It helped their careers and the fans loved it.
Uncle: That’s true.
Nephew: Those early musicians may have felt a little awkward in the beginning, but they grew into their image of flamboyance and unpredictability. That’s how we build ourselves a person: we create an image for ourselves and grow into it.
Uncle: I guess that’s true too.
Nephew: You have already admitted you have low self esteem, so why do you think you can comment on the cool and confident people who wear items to impress?
Nephew: Let that sink into your vulnerability.
Uncle: Alright then. Maybe counterfeits are okay.
Nephew: Exactly. They’re just another way to express ourselves.
Uncle: I can see your point of view, but I still have trouble reconciling it with my belief that only by living honestly and authentically can we truly feel grounded.
Nephew: No disrespect, dear uncle, but your haven’t exactly set the world on fire. And, if acting honestly and authentically hasn’t built your self esteem, perhaps you should try wearing a counterfeit watch for a while?
Uncle: Ouch. What about our achievements and abilities?
Nephew: What about them?
Uncle: Can we fake them as well? My concern is that if we lie to others about those things, then after a while we will come to believe those lies and look like a goose.
Nephew: Or, we might just grow into our claims! Society rewards people who aim high more than it rewards the people presenting an accurate picture of themselves.
Uncle: Won’t they hear in their head a voice sneer, ‘phoney!’?
Nephew: It’s better than the voice sneering ‘Loser!’. I’d rather feel like an imposter, anxious of being found out, than living a safe life being honest and modest, simply because I’m too frightened of being seen as a liar.
Uncle: Ouch again.
Nephew: Too many people undermine their achievements and abilities because they were taught to be modest and not brag. That’s not humility, that’s lying, the very thing you’re saying we shouldn’t do.
Uncle: Fair point. Look, all I am saying is that it’s a good idea to not lie about ourselves because we can start to believe those lies.
Nephew: All I’m saying is that if we can lie about ourselves often enough, we could end up cool and confident.
Uncle: I don’t know what to think.
Nephew: That’s a good start.
‘The more honest you are, the more open, the less fear you will have, because there’s no anxiety about being exposed or revealed to others. So, I think that the more honest you are, the more self-confident you will be.’
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.