Last night as I was driving home from another night of Youth Group, I listened to an intriguing story on NPR’s Radiolab called Deception. Scanning brains, researchers discovered that the frontal lobe of people who easily lied contained larger masses of white matter. (These people could easily make excuses and escape tight spots where others panic about what to say next.)
Even more intriguing, researchers developed a test that would reveal the ability of a person to even lie to themselves. They hooked up electrodes to their skin and were able to demonstrate that the body reacted to lies (somatic consciousness), but the the information was blocked from mental conscious recognition.
The most disturbing part of the piece was when the researchers revealed that these subjects were the most successful among us. Athletes are able to lie to themselves, “I’m the best. I’ll win I know it,” blocking out any information to the contrary, they indeed are. In the same way, CEOs and soldiers are able to block out the consequences of their actions, and continue to do things that do great harm to others in order to survive.
Conversely, those among us who tend to see the world and themselves more clearly tend to be more depressed. These are people who behold the suffering of others and are aware of their own weaknesses and willing to talk about their experiences with others.
At the conclusion of the show the narrator surmised that nature had created this capacity to lie so that we would be protected from the frailness of our humanity and go on to live successful lives. In short: the liars are the ideal and the compassionate ones are urged to grow thicker skin? I banged my head against the steering wheel.
Great. Just what the politicians and ego maniacs of the world need to hear.
But, but, I thought the goal was consciousness…?
No, not for the collective, Jung would say.
So what IS true success? Surely Plato would have struggled accepting the fact that those who can lie to themselves are achieving The Highest Good–especially if one’s actions do not result in The Highest Good for another too. Being successful at another’s expense is not really success. Nor is failing to see how we have hurt one another to maintain our successes. This is bullying. And cruel. Does our society ask us to attain these attributes in order to succeed? What do you think? (I’d love to hear your thoughts!)
When the Blue Fairy comes to rescue puppet Pinocchio from the prison he’s gotten himself in from following the crowd, Pinocchio cannot be set free until he stops lying to the Blue Fairy and to himself. Then he can go on to learn how to become a real boy.
We have to walk a much harder road to earn true success. Just as Jesus had to leave the mountain top where he was transfigured in glory (like we were in our teenage years) Jesus knew his path lead to the cross, and he dragged Peter back down the mountain to show him that God’s light comes to shine in dark places, even death (where we too must go).
No, people on the road to consciousness do not look like typical success stories. Often they look like complete failures. But in their willingness to be adventurous and risk seeing it all, they gain something hard to achieve: they gain compassion, joy and love.
Granted, lying is just at times. We lie to maintain relationships. We shield others from the pain of knowing their new hair cut really does look awful.
“Everything will be okay.”
“I can do this.”
“We’ll make it.”
I would argue that these thoughts that can shape reality are not lies, but faith. When we hope for ourselves and for humanity, we intentionally create a more equal playing field, where all of us can taste success.
Tomorrow is the last day before the season of Lent begins, a time for reflecting on our lives and what keeps us from being our best self. I hope we can all be courageous enough to learn from our mistakes, to walk along side of those who are suffering, and to hope for a more just and compassionate world. I know we can do it.
I look forward to the journey with you!