Minding the Gap Between My Story and The Truth

Subtitle: A Personal Experience of Remorse and Honesty at the Community Shred Day

Dishonesty plus consistency is a bad combo. I don't recommend the two together. They are a bitter pill.

I don't consider myself to be a dishonest person, but I think I may have to challenge this notion I have about myself based on something that happened to me this weekend. This story begins with me leaving the house with a box of sensitive documents to take advantage of the “community shred” day hosted by Fairfax County.

When I arrive there at 11am, there was a long line of cars lined up and moving very slowly.  I had only one box in the back of the car which I could easily carry. So, thinking I was being efficient, I parked the car in a marked parking space on the side of the road and walked the box up the street.

As I neared the drop of point, I was flagged down by a woman, the supervisor running the shred event. She asked me if I have a car and I said that I had walked.

I lied and said that I had.

She was nice enough, asked if I lived near and could I go home and get my car. And I suggested that the box wasn't very light. And I asked her, “what can we do?”

First she mentioned that they do a shred about once a month. But, upon consideration, she said that if I really did walk all the way from home, she'd feel bad if she sent me home with my box. This was awfully nice of her to make an exception for someone who really walked. It was what I wanted… wasn't it? But that person wasn't me.

I couldn't get on board with adding more dishonesty to the mix. And I didn't want to give her any more trouble. I insisted to her, it was alright, “it's just exercise in the end. I don't mind. Let's do this by the book. I'll go get the car.”

She insisted one more time that it was okay if I had really walked. And though I couldn't confess in the moment that I was just a scumbag that had parked nearby I simply said, “let's just do this one by the book. It's alright, really…” I walked the short walk back to my car and got in line.

I felt good. But I felt bad.

My choice not to take advantage of her kindness had at least a shred of integrity. I had opted not to take advantage of her kindness.  All is good right?

Nope.  And that's the part that is a bit strange to me. 

What I notice is that that there was something real about our interaction. She was so grounded and honest. And I really felt like there was a kind of mutual consideration, which made for flexibility and kindness on both of our parts. And I wanted to honor that in some way.

So after I made my way back to the car, then all the way through the line to drop off my shreddables, I found her sitting in the pickup truck marking the end of the line of cars... that they were soon to be closed for the day.  

I rolled up to her driver's side and I said to her, “I wasn't straight with you back there.”

She replied that she admired my honesty.

I should have simply said, “thank you”. That would have been enough.  But instead I said this awkward bit: “it's just something I have to do for me. But I wanted to express how much I appreciated your kindness.”  I have to be so complicated sometimes... sheesh.

And there it was… It felt right. But it was also hard to choose to do it.

I certainly didn't have to. More than likely, we would never see each other again.

But I wished so much that I had just been honest. And there was a part of me that didn't want to pretend it didn't happen. So I said what I said and it seems like the net effect is this: Choosing to do the hard thing and to face her (and myself) about my dishonesty made the cost of the dishonesty real to myself and will likely help me to do it differently next time.  This is Neuro-Associative Conditioning in practice.

And, as a really great perk, I just love that had this real human interaction. We saw one another. There was something about her and perhaps this whole situation that reminded me of my favorite school teachers from back in the day. This interaction brought me back in time to pay homage to all of them.

(Bless the teachers for having to put up with children that were like me.)

Side Note: Focus and Feelings

Tony Robbins repeats EVERYTHING he says. Often. He has repeated this:

Focus equals Feelings

One could focus on the argument that I was being efficient. That they should allow walkups.  That it would be less of a waste of gas and time for all. Reason would be on your side.

One could… but the only place it would leave you is frustrated an angry.

Instead I chose to focus on this: The supervisor had valid concerns to keep it fair, orderly, to prevent chaos, to avoid impacting other local parking lots with the burden of traffic that doesn't belong there. She has a testy constituency to answer to.  And the method they have settled on is the one that suits the needs of the most constituents.

An Opportunity to Reflect on Lies, Honesty, and The Consistency Trap

I have taken this whole experience as an opportunity to understand a bit more about what honesty means to me. But before that, I would like to celebrate that even though I hadn't acted in a way I would have liked, I didn't brew and stew. And I didn't do nothing.

I don't expect every action that I perform to be an act of perfection. Knowing what I choose my morals to be and putting them into consistent practice are two separate things with two different timelines. The use of the word “practice” here is apt. You don't get good at it just by deciding it.

So there I was in the clutch, I lied, and it was really hard to back down from my initial fib. It was only in the moments after I literally walked away that I was able to look her in the eye and confess to “not having been straight back there”.

Lying plus consistency is a bad combo: once I had started down the path of deception, I couldn't help but keep my story consistent… which meant either more lying or being evasive.  I don't think I'm alone in feeling the pull of this and I think that's the real danger in permitting yourself little fibs.

The real gift of being honest is not having to carry around the cognitive load of the sham version of reality you have constructed. Just being straight takes less brain power. This makes me the primary beneficiary of my apology I think. But I like to think that we both got something out of it. 

Is it strange to love that I was able to cull something good out of a situation where I had chosen to act badly? Perhaps so. But only because I didn't squander the opportunity to learn from it.