Justice or Mercy

Updated: Jan 6, 2019

My high school sweetheart sat to my left. We were on my roommate’s paper-thin futon, discussing how we were going to make our relationship work. She was just over halfway done with her senior year at my hometown high school and I was here in St. Paul, a freshman adapting to college and the city. At the beginning of this discussion, the dorm was bright with sunlight, but the sun had set and I hadn’t thought of turning on the lights. I guess I didn’t want to see her cry. After we had gotten a slight grip on what changed, she asked me whether I still loved her. Once I knew she was coming, I assumed we could fix this. I hoped that we would find a solution. I thought that I still loved her.

Decision-making skills derive from the experiences that gave the most favorable results. Facts are ignored because they can be inconvenient. The drunk driver often enters the car because of his self-deceit. This is my only option. I’m not that drunk. I won’t get pulled over. I won’t hurt anybody. My life is not at stake. These guesses are told to the self as certainties. False confidence has the ability to make people lie to themselves. It is the elixir that the devil on our shoulder pours, drowning us in the distorted reasoning to have our way.

“The truth will set you free, but first it is going to make you miserable.” Former President James A. Garfield said that because he understood why people hide within their lies. They see it as armor, protecting them from the judgment that the truth would bring. Strict parents raise the best liars. This expression derives from the children who forge their armor with greater and greater skill by making better and better lies. They avoid their parents’ judgment and consequences by becoming good at not getting caught. These children are safe inside of their lies.

Others use lies for protection not from others, but from themselves. Sometimes, if they believe the truth, they could not understand it, forgive, or move on. Thus, you have folks who have repressed memories. They are poor souls who have experienced something so traumatizing, that their minds have pushed the memory into an inaccessible corner of the brain. Victims and witnesses of horrendous acts such as murder, torture, and sexual assault are just a few examples. These gaps in the past are the result of dishonest defense mechanism, sparing each person of the anguish that the truth would thrust them into. The complexities of the human brain believe that each of these people deserve something better than the truth. How striking it is that something out of people’s control can try to show mercy on us. A beautiful twist that it must lie everyday to do so.

I want to know if the truth is the best you can get. Nobody knows, because

everybody lies. I was kidding. I caught a fish this big! I’m in a meeting. We’ll keep in touch. I’m fine. I love you.

Christopher McCandless, better known as Alexander Supertramp, gave up civilization in 1992 because he thought that most people in the world were pursuing the wrong things. He sought something else that people could not give him. Thoreau said it first, but I like how Supertramp expanded on it in Into The Wild (the film adaptation of his story). “Rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness…give me truth.” He chased that truth until he died alone in an abandoned bus at the age of twenty-four. I admire Supertramp’s morals and how high of a priority the truth was to him. He died, strictly thinking that a lie could never be justified. I’m not saying he cut down a cherry tree and never told a lie, but his relentless yearning for the truth is nothing short of stunning.

But the wavering necessity of lying keeps people thinking that reality is not real. Overzealous religious enthusiasts tell themselves that they know, with absolute certainty, what will happen to us after we die. Alcoholics and drug addicts often feel that they don’t have a problem. Kanye West believes that he is not a complete jackass. When people start to buy into the fables they tell themselves, they rarely open their eyes to the truth. The conscience compromises its integrity, until the liar loses himself to the lies.

She asked me if I still loved her. Every second of hesitation added to the streams already pouring from her beautiful brown eyes. All the pain in the moment, all the distress in her question, and all my fear of letting go did not force me lie to her and myself as I had been doing for too long. I was merciless.

“No.” I whispered, feeling free and miserable.

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