Lying About Lying About Lying To Yourself

You can see why Stephen Wolinsky didn’t become a famous spiritual teacher. He’s kinda prickly. Demanding. Brass knuckles.


He tells the story in one of his talks about having led a workshop some years ago. Over lunch, a woman in charge of the organization asked him a political question.

He said, “I don’t play that game.”

“But it’s a good skill to have,” she replied.

“If you mean,” he retorted, “that I should pretend to be someone I’m not and that I should pretend to like people I don’t, then it’s a skill I’m not willing to cultivate.”


Elsewhere, Wolinsky suggests that we very often lie to ourselves. When he speaks of lying, he means it in a very broad way: we delude ourselves, we conceal things from ourselves, we deceive ourselves about ourselves and others, and so on. Basically, we don’t face the truth, which is actually straightforward in nature, nor do we often speak it.

Yet not only do we very often lie to ourselves. We also “lie about lying”: that is, we tell ourselves that we’re not lying to ourselves in order to cover up the first lie.

Consider another story he tells: many years ago, he was speaking to a woman who couldn’t understand why her boyfriend was very often late and a bit tipsy.

He asked, “What lie are you telling yourself about your boyfriend?” She (he said) got “all huffy.”

Ultimately, she said, “Well, he’s a bartender and I initially met him at a bar.”

In Wolinsky’s terms, she’s been lying to herself by saying, “My boyfriend is reliable and he cares about me.” Then she’s lying about lying when she generates consternation in herself, “Oh, I have no idea why he’s not here on time tonight. How odd that is. I am positively at a loss.” In other words, she’s covering up the self-delusion by adding more self-delusion, in the form of needless consternation, on top of it.


Why not? We can go one step further than Wolinsky. For we often begin by lying about lying about lying to ourselves, and we do so through speech. We open our mouths and begin, with others, by lying about lying about lying. “My boyfriend is very conscientious” suggests that I’m sharing a lie with you and this lie I’ve also told myself and the lie is intended to cover up a smaller lie. This dynamic, in brief, is the basis for many conversations, not the least those that occur in business situations but also, to be sure, in many social settings.


The truth is both easier to take and harder to swallow. It’s the easiest thing in the world because it’s the plainest and most straightforward: I do not know myself. That’s it! Start here! Yet also the hardest because this obviousness has been buried under layer upon layer of lying and therefore under layer upon layer of identity.

Who wants to peel back the onion? There may be lots of crying… even if, in the end, it is the way to liberation and lasting peace.