We all tell white lies. Of course we do. They are the grease that keeps the engine of social intercourse moving smoothly.
I’m sorry that I can’t come tonight but I have another engagement…
Oh, you’ll be in town next week. I’d love to get together but I have a major report due for work.
I’m afraid we can’t extend the invitation to you; the bride’s family is limiting us to immediate family.
Emily Post would see little wrong with those. They do the deed–get you out of whatever–and at the same time allow the recipient to maintain their illusion that they are somewhat valued by you. But that’s social intercourse, the stuff of intimate strangers or mid-level acquaintances. What about those closer to us than that? Don’t we owe our nearest and dearest (alleged, it is true) the unvarnished truth?
So–to that relative who will not visit me in Sacramento because “it’s too hot”, I say–”and how did you do on your vacation in Africa?”
To the relative who picked and chose which cousins to invite to a family party and then invoked the Chelsea Clinton excuse, I say: wasn’t that about not inviting just for the sake of political paybacks?
And to the relative who can’t meet because her child screams when in a car for longer than thirty minutes, I say–”and you let her? Man, that is one kid who’s in charge.”
To all of them, I say–either come up with something better or tell the truth.
“I don’t want to visit you because I don’t want to visit you. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you; it’s just that I don’t want to do that trip.”
“You’re not invited because–you’re not. It’s not that you’re not valued; it’s just that there are other people who are more important for this event than you.”
“Thanks for the offer, but this time we can’t take you up on it.”
I’m trying to figure out why these lies bother me so much. It isn’t the end they achieve that I care about; it’s something to do with the lies themselves. Maybe it’s that they’re just so lame. It insults my intelligence that someone who knows me thinks I can be assuaged with bargain basement excuses. Maybe it’s that accepting them as truth requires me to be complicit in another’s obvious lie. Maybe it’s that I believe the least we owe those we love is honesty, even when it makes us uncomfortable.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth. Sometimes it’s hard to take the truth. Sometimes we have to.