The Biggest Lie We Tell Ourselves
by Trudy Boyle
The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that we did it all on our own.
You know what I mean, built a career, bought property, raised a family, did good works, voted in every election, acquired wealth – Self-made.
The lie doesn’t negate our effort. We do indeed play a big role in our achievements. Let’s not diminish that work or be against our worldly success. The world needs our efforts. Our family needs food and clothing and a roof over their head. And with our excess, we get to help alleviate the unfortunate circumstances of others.
However, let’s step back for a moment and examine our lives with an impartial lens.
One thing that becomes clear when we consider the notion of self-made, is that it allows us to turn away from the suffering of others. We can justify their lack under the guise of not working hard enough. If we can do it, they can do it too, in this equal opportunity world. Hmm
Another problem with this slipperiest of slopes, can be the hierarchical nature that gets set up. Of course, hierarchy exists. Yet to even catch a glimpse from time to time at our common humanity allows for the possibility of gratitude, generosity and compassion and an acknowledgement of our great good fortune in this world. And furthurmore that we are in this position, to be able, to be of service to another.
Even illness is impacted when we take credit for our good health
Oftentimes the person diagnosed with lung cancer, as one example, is blamed for their illness and not much sympathy is offered. The word “deserve” comes up. They deserve what they get. (I cannot abide the word deserve in any of its manifestations. I find it to be self-serving, blaming, or inaccurately congratulatory. I don’t think we “deserve” anything. Oops, I notice I am getting up on my soapbox, so will climb straight back down now. Whew!)
Let’s look for a moment at that person with lung cancer. The profile is often a 70-year-old male who may or may not have smoked. One thing for sure is that person was steeped in smoke, for much of his or her life. That 70-year-old grew up in the era of smoke-filled airplanes; movie theatres; hospitals; restaurants and almost anyplace people gathered.
And this also is true. The number one thing we can do to reduce our risk of the big three: lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is to not smoke. But the lie we tell ourselves if we take the liberty to compare our good health has more to it than our disciplined lifestyle.
This lie fosters the idea that we all have the same chance at life and ignores opportunity, luck, genes and the help we received even when we didn’t notice or ask for it.
Let’s ask ourselves a few questions:
- Who taught you to read?
- Who turned a blind eye now and then to your transgressions?
- Who gave you a second chance?
- Who changed the hundreds of diapers you required as a baby?
- Did anyone ever put a cool cloth on your feverish forehead?
- Who wrote your reference letters to help you get into University?
- Who gave you your first job?
- When you reflect on your biggest achievement, who were the people at different stages who helped you climb that ladder?
- And for that matter, who built the ladder?
I wonder what might happen if we recognized the lie and started thanking all the people on whose shoulders we stand. What a line-up we might find. It might go back decades.
Would it make a difference to what we do and how we do it, if it truly sunk in that we can do nothing at all, entirely on our own? Might that understanding bring a different quality of attention and humility to every action we undertake? Is there a possibility that we might lose some of our stridency towards “the other,” and become that person who steadies the ladder for those who are struggling from behind?
Meister Eckhart proclaimed, If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.
Thank you dear reader, for reading this. Warmly, Trudy
Trudy Boyle is coordinator for the Living Fully with Illness program at the ToDo Institute and a frequent contributor to Thirty Thousand Days. She brings 29 years of experience teaching the principles of Japanese Psychology, and for the past 13 years she has focused entirely on Living Fully with Illness. Trudy is the fo......