Fake Lives and Empty Conversations

Shortly after I left the church my brother and I moved into an apartment in Ogden right across from our University.  We lived together for almost a year but only talked about my religious differences once, not until the day he was moving out.  Somehow I kept my best friend aloof from me on a topic extremely important to both of us.  We were together all the time, talked politics, girls, science, gossip, sports, and everything else, but nothing religious, until we both finally set some time apart to discuss the reasons I left.

Why do we do that?

My mom asks me not to put drinking pictures up on Facebook, my girlfriend doesn’t tell her parents she “doesn’t believe” for three years and feigns activity, and a friend politely declines teaching Sunday School when he doesn’t have a testimony and continues going to church so he can avoid judgement from his family (and some very real consequences in his marriage).  Presentation-relationships take the place of real relationships because of things we don’t want to know or don’t want to tell.  We are sacrificing deep and meaningful relationships to avoid an awkward conversation.  In fact . . . it’s really not that awkward once we open our mouths.

One of my favorite fantasy authors is Terry Goodkind – in one of his books he writes about a group called the Mud People; an “uncivilized” people with a custom our civilization could learn something from.  We greet each other by hugging or shaking hands; the Mud People slap each other . . . hard.  When they first met Richard, the main character in the book, they slapped him in greeting and he immediately reacted by punching the person full-on and knocking him to the ground.  In a tense moment when the reader is sure arrows will fly and someone is going to end up dead, the hunters all smile and nod in approval.  Well, that was unexpected . . . but to them, the Mud People, to slap someone is a sign that you respect their strength; the harder you slap, the more respect you show.  Richard had just given a big compliment and had no idea.  Most importantly, if a Mud person didn’t respect you – if they didn’t think you were strong – they wouldn’t slap you at all, or maybe they’d just give you a light tap on the cheek.

What are we really saying to our loved ones when we refuse to talk about religion or politics?

I will not have presentation-relationships with those I love.  Family and friends–getting to know someone deeply, having meaningful conversations and sharing all my thoughts–are the things that make me the happiest.  Happiness, I think, is incomplete unless that happiness is shared with someone else, mutual memories we can talk about for years to come.  If we’re sitting there across the dinner table, unwilling to disclose what we think and who we are, we’re missing out on something that makes life beautiful.  Once that conversation is started, once the silence is broken, its not actually that bad.  Some people will be unreasonable–they’ll get angry or upset for some reason because you decided to make an adult decision and let them in on it so they knew what was going on–but eventually life only gets better by being honest and open, by respecting each other enough to be ourselves even if its a slap in the face–at first–to the person who’s listening.

(this post is balanced by my next post)

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16 thoughts on “Fake Lives and Empty Conversations

  1. Great insight! It has everything to do with honesty and integrity, or as Mufasa would put it, becoming who you are.

  2. I brought up religion while socializing with a diverse group of people in my training class last week. For a good 15 minutes we discussed why none of them ever talk about religion, even touching on the fact that some of them felt uncomfortable with it right then. Some Catholics, some Christians, some Agnostics…all adults, hiding portions of their deepest inner beliefs from those who mattered most to them.
    Not a single person in that room believed in any organized religion, yet only two of us refused to associate with the churches we were raised in. And even those two, myself included, we’re still scrambling to make sure pictures of that night didn’t include the beer we were drinking.
    Why? Why did so many of us have to pretend to want to attend church, pretend to believe, and pretend to never drink? A lifetime of trial and error had taught us that the majority of people who discovered the truth would react irrationally, causing more pain than living a lie would. The majority of our loved ones hadn’t earned the trust that revealing such a “slap in the face” requires. That’s sad, and I’m certainly not going to contribute to it anymore.

    • Solid response – Ya, it definitely puts some strain on relationships at first, and showing who we are begins with those we trust first. Then, I think, as we gain more pride for who we are and what we stand for, it becomes more and more natural just to be ourselves and let people take it or leave it – hopefully the former, but sometimes not. Even with with Whicker Grandparents I’ve been casually open about myself and it has been more natural, and I feel I have a much better relationship with them since . . . I was missing out on that for years before.

  3. I completely agree. I can’t tell you how much I have valued my relationships that are built off of these principles! My relationship with you, Nate, Buddy, my Mom and Toni are all pretty solidly founded upon them.

    I also feel it has to do a LOT with maturity.

    I am fortunate enough to have several loved ones I’m able to share this dynamic with, and welcome even more as they happen! Great post Jeff.

    • Gracias senor! Maturity is huge! And often I don’t think we give people enough credit for how mature they are, and just ASSUME they’ll have a problem with us being open.

  4. Good thoughts for pondering. Because you are secure within yourself, Jefferson, and because you are coming from love and honest curiosity and RESPECT for others’ right to believe differently than you do… people are comfortable and more able to consider your words without being defensive themselves. A person who comes from a defensive place (often manifested by in-your-face “I’m right, you’re stupid”) isn’t going to succeed in honest relationships because a) others will not perceive that the relationship is important to them; and b) the other person’s already gone. I honor your way.

    After thinking alot about what you’ve written — and, of course, realizing how handicapped I, and my relationships, have been in the past because I didn’t feel confident, or believe myself to be free, about being totally honest — I’d like to add a couple of thoughts.

    First, if we take your example of the Mud People greeting to the extreme, imagine this scenario: Two MPs are traveling in a foreign land, one where their greeting (no matter their motives) is perceived as an act of war. Should they separate for a few hours and then greet each other in their normal way, but now in a land where their motives and traditions are unknown, their motives… their meaning… will probably remain unknown. THEY will remain unknown. What if, in this different culture, any sign of war was immediately punishable by death (I know, ironic) because the people are so afraid of war? Would you suggest that the MPs consider the differences in culture and not just plow in with their own tradition, expecting to be understood, expecting to be truly “seen?” To me, this is (in some ways) like making a surprising change (as we have) and then choosing to be completely open abut EVERYTHING. Some selectivity is a positive thing. For one thing, SOME THINGS ARE PRIVATE. If you do go out and get drunk… Who really wants to know? And where is the line between honesty and a ridiculous level of sharing? (Bedroom tales, etc.)

    To be known is good and allows mutual learning and, hopefully, trust between the parties. To be NOT known because formerly-taboo behaviors are suddenly made the focus, is not good. Do you see these comments as meaningful to this discussion?

    An example which you mentioned in your post: I had serious problems with Nathan’s friend putting a photo of Nathan on FB with the caption, “Nathan, before he got drunk.” It is preciselly the people who KNOW NATHAN THE BEST who were surprised, and yes, even hurt and deeply concerned by this. IT DOESN’T SEEM LIKE NATHAN. What’s more, I’ve been told by several people, including Nathan, that he does not get drunk. I choose to believe that, in part because I know him and I know his heart. So what Nathan’s friend was portraying was NOT THE TRUTH. Nathan’s TRUTH and his MOTIVES are what matters. Those cannot be observed or even guessed if based on incorrect or incomplete information. Thus… I mildly freaked. 🙂

    Finally, may I say that, years ago, I would not have believed that it would be possible to say this, but it’s true: After the trauma of facing my doubts and the trauma of being open about it with husband, children, parents, siblings, friends… I have gained a tremendous respect for those who have been able to talk with me about it, with respect. Even more importantly, I AM FREE, I am me, and I celebrate being as fully integrous as I have ever been. It’s a very good place to be.

    Love to all
    Mom

    • Hey Mom – thanks for the response!

      So . . . yes, there are nuances in everything, and exceptions to every rule. I’m not advocating being open about EVERY possible thing in EVERY instance – I will never talk about everything Nate, Colten, and I talk about with you. But religious and political belief are two things very important to every person, so avoiding those conversations prevents deep relationships – so I do think its in a different category than knowing your son is drinking or something like that.

      We’ve talked a lot about the drinking thing, and harsh comments on facebook, etc – and what I’ve consistently brought up is that you have a choice. 1). You can imagine the way you’d LIKE us to be and really enjoy that perception of us. 2) you can let yourself see how we ACTUALLY are – some vices, weaknesses, or things you don’t agree with included. Avoiding #2 comes at a price because you’re only letting yourself see the “good” things about your sons, and you miss out on the opportunity to really understand the things that (still) make them human 😛

      Also, being open doesn’t mean accepting abuse. (I’m writing something about that right now).

      And – great parallel with the Mud People! My mission president had a saying we loved which helped us realize our fears were misplaced. Talking about “opening your mouth” and just talking about the gospel with everyone, he said, “What’s the WORST that could happen?” We’d answer, “well, they’d say no?” And he’d respond – “They could kill you!” And then we’d laugh because we realized he was right . . . we could safely put down our fears of rejection and just teach. We’d be ok.
      So . . . what IF a mud person would DIE by not adjusting and being sensitive to another culture? Well, then I guess they should probably adjust! The consequences of us being open about who we are aren’t near as morbid, though. We may lose some relationships (but most of the time we won’t), but that’ll let us spend time on people that we’ll enjoy more anyways 😛

  5. I can tell you, to the dime and penny, the cost in lost self-esteem feeling you must conceal some of the most important aspects of your life. The truth is, that at the same time we’re telling ourselves we are “sparing others’ feelings” or “keeping the peace” by living a “presentation life” when around them, we are validating and giving power to feelings of guilt and shame. We not only devalue ourselves, we make our interpersonal relationships shallow, surface only, weather and work.

    Sad thing is, mask wearing, like the young woman in the picture, becomes very habit-forming – or addictive. It’s certainly the easiest thing to do – the safest. You know, put on your correlated mask and costume, wear it for the few hours needed, walk around a corner, take it off and pack it away until next time. Problem is, most addictions are damaging. Worst thing is, that type of living is, fundamentally, an insult to everyone involved.

    • Better said and more concise than anything I said, thanks for your thoughts. That mask wearing is, while understandable, one of the things that came between you and I. And, as stated in a previous post, once we both dropped those I feel I came close to you for the first time.

  6. You are brave to take this approach with family, etc. I think I tried to in the beginning, but I kept seeing friends fall off facebook, and more and more people get offended by what I wrote, and decided that it would be easier on them if I didn’t expose them to my “darker” side. I can’t handle superficial relationships overall, so I’d rather devote my time to meaningful ones where I can be myself and vice versa.

    • I was surprised that in the 2 days after I started the blog I had about 5 new friends on facebook. Maybe some people dropped me, but I didn’t notice anything. My first couple posts are pretty non-confrontational, so that may change when I get into the specific doctrines I concluded were false or deceptive, but I was surprised nonetheless. If it does . . . then I’m attracting like-minded people to be my friends, because I’m being myself, and the non-like-minded can drop off if they’d like. Then, as you said, I can devote my time to more meaningful relationships.

  7. Pingback: You’re Not Entitled To My Ears Forever | The Accidental Atheist

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