Defeat Device

I didn’t really think I could do it, didn’t even want to, but I promised myself I would anyway. It made me feel so much better.

Pretending to myself has that kind of effect. It cocoons me into a state of cosy bliss. Helps me live in denial. Hasty promises, forgotten agreements, misplaced contracts, irresolute resolutions become habitual the longer one lives. Pledges broken again and again. Made to myself, and to others.

It’s official and its global. Lying is universal – we all do it (Mark Twain). A worldwide problem of integrity.  On an average, “first marriages” last only for eight years (and its getting shorter): marriage vows junked, starry eyed promises made, crushed in a melee of shattered hearts, stormy passions and smashed pans.

Little babies are not so innocent after all: it takes just under eight months for infants to become skilful liars using fake tears to fool doting parents.

Lies are a worldwide phenomenon. We learn to lie very soon and it becomes part of our behaviour by the time we’re two years old.

Research shows that well-meaning new year’s resolutions are broken in about eight weeks by more than half of those who made them. And only a tiny percentage – just 8 (the magic number?) – have some vestige of it still loitering nebulously in their conscience by the time the next New Year’s eve rolls around.

New Year’s resolutions are mostly fibs we tell ourselves, hoping for change by imagining our problems away. Very few of us are actually serious enough to take these to another level: most just stay with the feel good factor that sweeping things under the proverbial carpet usually brings with it. “Delusional development is the futile hope that you will get better at something just because you want to,” says Tasha Eurich in her book, Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom-Line Results, and the Power to Deliver Both.

Lies are a worldwide phenomenon. We learn to lie very soon and it becomes part of our behaviour by the time we’re two years old. Those are the easily see through-able “cute lies” that adults smile indulgently and laugh about. By the age of four, we have learnt to tell more credible lies, and at seven we have progressed on to more believable and convincing “tertiary lies”. By then, some are well versed in the art of rationalisation, a process that basically is lying to ourselves, inventing plausible excuses to justify what we do. J. H. Newman famously said, “It is impossible to deceive others, for any long time, without, in a measure, deceiving ourselves.” How much worse can it get than for someone to start believing in their own lies? Self-deceived and happily so!

But, psychologists claim there’s a silver lining! They point out that lying has an advantage in the development of children. It increases creativity as a child needs to figure out imaginary reasons to establish fictitious accounts and live in parallel worlds. It helps them separate fact from fiction. From this perspective, lying is just another developmental milestone for the complex cognitive skills we need to navigate this world we are in! In fact, some even argue that those lying early in life turn out cleverer. A fact that Jesus was well aware of: “the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Better liars?

It all depends on our framework of reference, of course. The spies ensconced in Rahab’s loft must have been grateful for the convincing lies that rolled off her tongue. Jews in Nazi Germany deeply indebted to people like Corrie Ten Boom who hid them to escape sure death in concentration camps. David pretended to be insane to save his life from Achish, king of Gath. A few examples of good people who had to lie to escape oppressive regimes, sure death from evil men, or to save others in such predicaments.

Such situations are not the norm, lies are not usually spoken for noble causes. Almost all are born from moral failure, looking for our own benefits. Jesus called the devil: “the father of lies”, and John implied that anyone who lies is born of the devil.  “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalm 32:2), said the psalmist. Let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No.” (Matt. 5:37) – be a man of your word, said Jesus, for anything more than this is from the evil one.

New Year’s resolutions, so easily discarded by most, are packaged badly. And when packaged badly, they end up in a lie.

Eight hundred thousand car owners in Europe might wish Volkswagen had followed that dictum, in what’s being labelled the diesel dupe of the decade. Lies are to man, what their duping software is to Volkswagen: a defeat device. An inner program that kicks in when tested, beating scrutiny, but which results in huge levels of atmospheric contaminants bringing disease, and shortening life spans. A defeat of morality. Our lies are poison, our human environment toxic as most of us pollute it even further. A defeat device.

We were born in this way, or so claims David, looking back on a lifetime of lies and deceit: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Caught red-handed in adultery, murder, manipulation and deceit, this king saw the track he was always on, the sad story of an entire world, save for one.

“You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom” (Psalm 51.6). Truth is not just a concept, a moral ethic, a behavioural formula that makes us “good”. Truth is a Person: Jesus said, “I am the Truth” (John 14.6), and to invite Him in is to be “washed thoroughly from our iniquity cleansed from our sin” (Psalm 51:2). Truth is not spoken, it is done, and “whoever does the truth, comes to the light” (John 3.21). “Everyone who is of the truth hears His voice” (John 18.37), and “when we know the truth, we shall be set free” (John 8.32). Liberated.

New Year’s resolutions, so easily discarded by most, are packaged badly. And when packaged badly, they end up in a lie. Why do we wait for that special day to make a resolution? Take any resolution, either to do good, or to stop something harmful. If it’s right to do, don’t wait, act on it now. If it’s wrong, give it a kick out of your life- now. Wait at your own risk, but prove Oscar Wilde right when he said, “here is a fatality about good resolutions – they are always made too late!” If the week after Diwali causes fatal levels of pollution to the atmosphere, could it be that the week following the New Year is the most morally polluted with literally billions around the globe living in denial, making resolutions they never plan to keep? A fine way to begin the year.

The writer to the Hebrews said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Heb. 3:15). “Now is the accepted time; today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). If we have resolved to do something before God, let’s do it today. I guess tomorrow can take care of itself. Resolutions are meant to lead to action, vows made are meant to be carried out. Today. Waiting never helps.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Let my first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day: I shall not fear anyone on earth, I shall fear only God.”

And liberate a nation.

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