I was eating my oriental salad in the mall food court. At the next table sat a mother with her two little boys, one obviously a year or two older than the other. The older one grandly announced to the younger, “I’m 10.” With great umbrage the younger boy replied, “No you’re not! You’re 7!” The older one shot back, “It’s my life, I can be 10 if I want!”
This interchange put me in mind of my mother who is 89. For years, whenever someone has asked her how old she is she has replied, “I’m 25!” When someone once countered with, “But you have children older than that!” she replied, “Well, that’s their problem.” The difference between Mom and the child in the mall is that she, and we, knowingly participate in the deception; the child in the mall has actually convinced himself that whatever he says is true because he has said it.
We live in a culture which, under the guise of putting one’s best foot forward, encourages deception… in advertising, in resumes, in relationships of all types. We even deceive our children. I am dismayed as I observe trophies being given out to all of the children just for participating in the contest. This is like giving the kid an award just for breathing air! We are giving our kids the incorrect idea that they are the center of the universe and that society therefore owes things to them. Our culture lies to us by telling us that our feelings are paramount, that what we feel is important because we feel it, and that if anything makes us feel uncomfortable then it must be wrong for us; otherwise, it would not make us experience such uncomfortable feelings!
As a result of this lie, if a relationship creates stressed feelings arising from each others expectation that the other will adapt to us, we walk away. The irony is that when we walk away from dealing with our emotions we actually don’t get anywhere. Unexamined and unaddressed emotions can wreck a life, leaving us stranded and isolated from the very happiness for which we yearn. In the end, happiness is the result of our being honest with ourselves, of our unwillingness to run from whatever distresses us. We cannot figure out the meaning of our life by lying to ourselves, but by being connected to our inner life and by struggling to understand its direction.
Our culture tells us that whatever we think is true because we think it, even when your thoughts and my thoughts conflict; we resolve this conundrum by saying, “Well, that’s your opinion.” President Lincoln once asked a critic, “How many legs has a horse?” With a sneer the critic replied, “Four, of course.” Lincoln then asked him, “Well then, let us ask, if we call the horse’s tail a ‘leg’, how many legs then does it have?” The critic confidently replied, “Five.” Lincoln then pounced: “Wrong! Just because we call a tail a leg does not make it one!” Abraham Lincoln died on April 15th, 1865, and our me-centric culture continues to call a tail a leg!