This whole honesty thing is something that I struggle with because I think of myself as someone who tries to be authentic and straightforward with people, both strangers and friends, and yet I catch myself shading the truth pretty constantly.
Take any doctor’s visit. I’ve been claiming to be 5’8’’ since I was in high school, and yet I know that on my best day, I never have broken 5’ 7 3/4”. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m shrinking as I age. I might not even break 5’ 6’’ on some days. Before long there will be rides at Disneyland I won’t be allowed to go on.
No matter how many times I visit my doctor he will ask about smoking and drinking habits. No, I never smoke. Yes, I really enjoy drinking. How many drinks a day would you say you have? My answer now is always, “no more than two” because I know that that answer will not alarm him. Plus, I read that doctors know all their patients lie about drinking habits and automatically double whatever number that the patient gives. In other words, my doctor doesn’t trust me to be honest with him. It makes me sad that this has come between us. It prompts him to say things like “we have programs if you ever think you need help with that.”
Help with drinking? Hell, no. I’m drinking plenty without any help at all. The trick here is self-regulation. I have many rules about when drinking is allowed and when it is not. The problem is that I break my own rules all the time. Well, not break exactly. I just find that words like “rules” are so inflexible. i had a rule that drinking was something that I should reserve for special occasions, but if you love life (I thought to myself) isn’t every day a cause for celebration? At 63, I’m pretty excited just to wake up every morning. Any given Tuesday, seems like a special occasion to me. My two favorite presidents, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama were both elected on a Tuesday. My birthday falls on a Tuesday every few years, right? I’m pretty sure I’ve had sex on a Tuesday more than once. The more I think about it, the more Tuesday seems like a reason to celebrate, truly a special occasion. And then there are Wednesdays…
I recently discovered that, not only do I lie, I’m even capable of theft. I was picking up a few supplies at our local Target and opted for the self-checkout lane. When I got to the car I was tossing things in the back when I discovered two packages of floss sitting in the bottom of the basket. I had completely missed them when I was scanning the other objects.
I literally stood there in the parking lot holding on to my $2.78 worth of floss trying to figure out the best thing to do. There was just no good option. If I carried them back into the store openly, I might get accused of theft. If I snuck them back in and then tried to pull them out of my pocket surreptitiously, same thing could happen. I imagined carrying them up to the customer service desk to explain my dilemma, but I’ve found that honesty confounds some people, and the folks that work customer service are usually there because they’ve failed at more complex tasks–like stacking boxes on the shelves. I could just imagine how the conversation would go:
ME: “Hey, look, I accidentally forgot to scan these items so…”
HIM: “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t do exchanges on personal hygiene products like floss.”
ME: “No, you don’t understand. I don’t want to exchange the floss, I want to pay for it.”
HIM: “Do you have your receipt, sir?”
ME: “No, of course I don’t have the receipt. I haven’t paid for them yet.”
HIM: “You are trying to exchange two packages of floss that you haven’t even paid for?”
ME: “No, you idiot, I don’t want an exchange, I…
HIM: (on the loudspeaker) “Security, could you come to customer service, please.” (to me) “There’s no reason to use abusive language when I’m trying to help you, sir.”
I look around and I don’t see a cadre of security guards converging on me so I toss the floss into the back seat without another thought. There are times when being honest is just not a convenient option.