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April 28, 2014

Lisa Madras: Why believe The Lie? Maybe we just can’t handle the truth

NEW CASTLE — What’s the biggest lie you once believed was true?

You know, considering that most people would adamantly claim to be against lying, we sure seem to live in a world brimming with lies. Some of them are well-meaning, and some, not so much. But lies abound, and if we were all cursed like Pinnochio, there'd be a lot of long-nosed people walking around.

•Looks don't matter. (Let's be realistic here — they SHOULDN'T, but they do.)

•There's no such thing as a stupid question. (If you car says Dodge on the front of it, do you really need a horn?)

•All that matters is that you try your hardest. (Second place doesn't get you the trophy, the job, or the girl. Trying is important, but it certainly isn't ALL that matters. It still hurts when you lose.)

•If you swallow that gum, it'll stay in your stomach for nine years. (I may not have enough years left to get rid of it all. Does this have a cumulative effect?)

My favorite, though, is this one:Good things will happen if you're a good person. (And karma will get the bad guy.)

Listen, I'm not trying to bellyache here, but I believed this lie for most of my apparently-naive life, and my misguided sense of fairness still wants to sucker punch the person who fed me this whopper in the first place. (How's that for karma?)

But they probably meant well, especially since this is one of those lies we tell to comfort ourselves. What kind of world would we live in if we felt that our behavior held no real long-term consequences? The problem arises we're faced with the incongruency between what we WANT to believe and what happens in reality.

Perhaps I'm more misguided than most, but I really, truly believed that because I thought of myself as a good person, there simply HAD to be a reason so much bad stuff had happened to me. If I was good but being punished, and the "bad guy" was bad but getting off scott free, then I must somehow be to blame. Where did I go wrong? What did I do wrong? Where was the answer that would fit into my belief system?

I researched and I analyzed and I questioned and I prayed. I stopped sleeping and stopped eating and thought about little else beside finding a REASON. Not surprisingly, before long, I ended up in therapy.  

I'll never forget the day my therapist listened to me rant and cry and carry on about right and wrong and the rules of the universe. And after about 20 solid minutes of lunacy interrupted only by pauses to hyperventilate, I let the therapist get in a sentence of her own.

"Sometimes crap happens to good people."

I'm not exactly sure why I needed to hear someone say those words out loud to believe them, but that is precisely what I needed. It was like I was a balloon that someone had filled to maximum capacity and then released to fly and bounce wildly around the room. With that one simple sentence, I sputtered out my last bit of air, and there I sat — deflated and done.

It doesn't take a whole heck of a lot to prove the right and wrong of facts to someone, but when you're dealing with a belief system? Those are hard to let go of, even when it's for your own good. If I had to accept that bad things happen to good people, I also had to let go of the belief that good things would happen to me simply because I was good. That was a hard pill to swallow, especially in light of the lie I'd been feeding myself for close to 30 years.

But if you think this is one of those stories that has a sad ending, then you don't know me very well. You see, I might have come out of this one with a lost belief (and that is typically a sad thing), but I also came out just a heensy bit smarter, and whole lot more empowered. The good things I wanted to happen in my life were never going to just happen — I was going to have to work for them. And if bad things happened along the way, I would no longer have to drive myself insane trying to figure out why. I'm not sure I ever fully realized what freedom was before I knew that.

“Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same. Fairness means everyone gets what they need.” — Rick Riordan, “The Red Pyramid”


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