A long time ago, I was a liar. As a little girl I told tons of fibs both innocent and otherwise, and I kept it up until I was older than “just a little girl.” Once or twice I lied to the point of having to make other people lie (always my sisters) to keep my lie going. Years and years later I recounted this fact to a therapist.
“What do you think made you want to be a liar?” she asked.
“Oh, I wasn’t a liar,” I said.
But I was. My lies were innocent, but still untrue. That made me a liar. I was mortified to discover this fact, even though it was long over. I didn’t want to be a liar, even in memory. And so we worked on this piece of my personal history. We figured out that I lied to feel important and get attention. I have always been a perfectionist and someone that needs and wants status. The lies I told helped me to achieve that, and more often than not, I didn’t get caught.
In therapy you’re encouraged to name things. If you feel embarrassed, unworthy, or like you want to hide because of who you are—you feel shame. If you feel nervous or concerned in a way that regularly affects your mind and body—you feel anxiety.
Jealousy. Empathy. Obsession. Rage. First you feel those feelings, honestly, and then you take the harder step of saying those words. And once you do, they can’t be unsaid. This is one of the few black-and-white elements of the grey area-loving therapeutic process.
Naming things allows you to know the enemy. Allows you to battle your shame specifically. To tackle your anxiety with certain weapons. To strategically attack and defeat your obsession. Understanding what you’re up against is paramount to moving beyond the problem.
Which is why I think we need to start calling out the racists, and the bigots, and the misogynists and the hypocrites and the liars—by name.
Here, I’ll start.
It doesn’t matter how often he lies. It doesn’t matter what he lies about. It doesn’t matter that people from his communications team say he is not a liar or that members of the media call his lies “misinformation.” The President of the United States regularly says many things that are not true, therefore he is, by definition, a liar. He needs to reckon with it, we need to reckon with it, but we can’t do that if we refuse to acknowledge the problem—to name it.
OK, that felt pretty good. We’re all still here. Still doing OK. So, let’s keep going.
Is it me or have Americans become impervious to fault? Nothing is our fault. We are victims. We are under attack by (fill in the blank, but I’m filling mine with the liberal elite). But we are entitled to our opinions, dammit! We are entitled to our world views!
A racist is a noun that means, “a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.” It is also an adjective meaning, “showing or feeling discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or believing that a particular race is superior to another.” I didn’t write that definition (the Webster’s dictionary people did), but I find it very easy to understand.
So let’s say that you are a person who believes we should ban Muslim people from entering the Unites States. Even Muslim people not on any terror watch lists. Even Muslim people that have been extensively vetted for entry. Even Muslim people seeking refuge from extremism within their own religion.
How dare you call me that! I have black friends!
Cool. Show them my whole paragraph about you being racist for your opinions on Muslim immigration. If they’re on your side, they’re racist too.
I am not mincing on purpose. If we don’t acknowledge the problem explicitly, then we’re ignoring the problem explicitly. It’s that simple.
If no one is a racist then how are we supposed to address racism?
If no one is a misogynist how are we supposed to advance the rights and status of women?
If no one is a bigot how will we ever have harmony in this country?
I believe racism, bigotry, misogyny, and similar attitudes and behavior are flaws of the human psyche or understanding. But I, ever the optimist, also believe they can all be changed. We act like those around us. We behave as we are taught. But we are all capable of opening our hearts and minds.
Consider how many formerly homophobic people become open-minded when their son or daughter comes out of the closet. Prior to that, many of them ran in social circles where their homophobia went unchecked. No one called them homophobes. They weren’t ashamed of those views.
I find myself asking the same question time and time again about everyone from world leaders to bad cops: Have they no shame?
Or, in other words, why aren’t they mortified by who they are?
But then it hit me: you can’t feel shameful about something you do not acknowledge to be true. Bill O’Reilly isn’t embarrassed about being a misogynist because Bill O’Reilly doesn’t believe he is a misogynist. Donald Trump isn’t embarrassed about being a liar because he doesn’t believe that he is a liar. Your neighbor John Doe isn’t walking around embarrassed to be the town racist because according to him, he’s not.
For all the slut-shaming there is in this world—and there is a lot—where is all the racist-shaming? Slut isn’t even a word with a true definition. And yet millions of women and girls are afraid to have sex with more than X number of men because it might make them a slut. They might be slut-shamed.
Imagine if millions of Americans were afraid to express thoughts or engage in acts that discriminate against someone solely based on their race because it might make them a racist. They might be racist-shamed. Wouldn’t that be a much more productive way to use our shaming powers for good?
Over the years, I’ve named many of my feelings and enemies. And though I’ve made progress, I still have many flaws. I am still a perfectionist. I still have a tricky relationship with status. I can still tell a very convincing story. But I don’t lie anymore for one simple reason: being a liar is too shameful for me to bear.
Now how can we make America come to that same conclusion about the demons they are unwilling to name?