Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

My mother always said, “Oh what an awful web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” It was said to warn and deter my siblings and me from lying. She claimed that, the more lies one tells and the more people who are told these lies, the larger and more “sticky” the web in which one becomes entangled. As the years passed, her words rang more and more true. Bending the truth, engaging in deception, and distorting reality eventually catch up with the source of origination. Once lies spread, they are impossible to take back or control. And eventually, no matter how long it may take, the truth always comes to light. (Anyone watch House of Cards?) 

While lying may be the wrong thing to do, to me the interesting question is, why DO people lie? More to the heart of the matter, what causes one to do so? 

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we learn of many forms of deception. It becomes clear that Rebecca and Isaac have a marriage that is not based on open communication and mutual trust. When she prophecies the nature and destinies of the twin boys she is carrying, she does not reveal God’s will to her husband. And, even worse, when years later it’s time for Isaac to bestow blessings upon his sons, Rebecca takes advantage of his blindness and deliberately masquerades Jacob as Esau in an attempt to secure the “firstborn” blessing for her favorite and younger son; the blessing of continuing the convent that was passed from Abraham to Isaac himself. The inheritance of the birthright by Jacob — the blessing of children and the Promised Land (Genesis 28: 3-4) — was more important to Rachel than power, riches, or land. To her it guaranteed a legacy. And that superseded honest discussions with her husband. 

But why did Rebecca feel the need to lie? I believe that acts of lying are driven by a range of deep and complicated feelings; be they insecurity, fear, inadequacy, self-preservation, or the need for control. These feelings, combined with an inability (or unwillingness) to openly discuss and reconcile them, create an environment where lies — instead of truths — seem to be the easiest and most direct route to achieving one’s desired outcomes. The downside, however, is that lies have the power to tear people apart, create chaos, and destroy families and entire communities.  

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches that “any leader — from parent to CEO — must set as his or her task good, strong, honest, open communication. That is what makes families, teams, and corporate cultures healthy.” And in terms of communication, it is imperative that parents and leaders listen as much, if not more, than they question and discuss. In addition, both home and office environments must foster atmospheres of trust and mutual respect whereby all members feel safe and valued, and are enabled to share thoughts, ideas, and feelings in a penalty-free manner. These are basic needs that, if met, will encourage the pursuit of truth, excellence, collaboration, and success. All noble goals to which we all should aspire. 

Yes, Mom, I listened. And, I’ve learned. 

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