Do Lies Come in Different Colors?

the color of lies

Today’s burning question is: Do lies come in different colors?

I discussed this topic in a recent insurance ethics seminar I taught and I’m curious about your opinion. Some of my students indicated white lies are okay and other types of lies are not. What do YOU think?

I didn’t know lies came in assorted colors so I asked my students, “What’s the difference between a white lie, a red lie, and a purple lie?”

A white lie, my students said, is a lie that spares another person’s feelings or doesn’t hurt someone else. That got me thinking about other people’s feelings.

How can we predict with any accuracy how another person truly feels? Why should we modify our opinions based on our perception of what another person’s feelings might be? Are we truly responsible for how another person feels and responds to the truth?

Keep in mind that our opinion isn’t necessarily the truth–it’s our belief or perspective. In fact, our opinion often changes over time.

Sometimes, when people ask us a question, they’re asking for an opinion, not a fact: Do I look fat in this dress?

There’s no truthful answer to this question because no universal, factual response exists. I may think the dress suits you perfectly and Edna may disagree. If Edna decides to tell a white lie and say No, honey, you look great and save your feelings, she’s not telling HER truth.

Later on in the evening, after you decided to go to a party wearing the dress Edna likes, what if someone else tells you the dress is too tight and you should have chosen something else to wear? Might Edna’s words still hurt when you realize she told a white lie? Might Edna have spared your feelings by telling HER truth in a mindful manner? Personally, honey, your red dress is the most flattering dress you own. If I were you, I’d wear that instead.

At other times, when people ask us a question, they want a factual response. Why didn’t you answer the phone last night? There IS a truthful answer to this question. Maybe I didn’t hear the phone ring. If that’s the case, saying so would be a truthful response. But what if I didn’t hear the phone ring because the battery died, I turned the phone off when I got home to avoid your call, or I left it at home when I rented a motel room to fool around with your spouse?

Not providing the entire truth might be misleading … and an outright lie.

But when might it be a “white” lie? If the phone’s battery died and I chose not to charge it because I wanted silence, not providing that information might be considered a white lie. In the other two scenarios, not telling the truth is an outright lie. What color lie would it be? Red, purple, blue?

Let’s face it, a lie is meant to deceive. When we lie, we distort the truth to protect ourselves, not to spare other people’s feelings.

It’s easier to tell a white lie and say either “yes” or “no” than produce one or two complete sentences that convey how we truly feel … while also considering the other person’s feelings. It’s also easier to tell other types of lies to prevent the fallout from sharing the truth, whether it’s OUR truth or THE truth.

In closing, let me share the universal meaning of some colors in the rainbow:

  • Red is the color of passion and energy. It’s also a sign of danger or warning.
  • Yellow is the color of happiness and optimism, however, it’s also a sign of cowardice.
  • Green is the color of nature, harmony, and health and is universally associated with envy.
  • Purple is the color of royalty, spirituality, and imagination. It’s also connected with immaturity and sensitivity.
  • White is the color of purity and innocence, yet it can be indicative of coldness, emptiness, or distance.

When we lie, even when telling white lies, we do so primarily because of our OWN feelings. Feelings that usually represent the flip side of what is good and positive. So yes, I guess lies do come in different colors.

What Comes First – Thanksgiving or Christmas?

Once and for all, someone … okay me … needs to answer the question: What comes first, Christmas or Thanksgiving?

What Comes First?

Yes, if we list the two holidays in ABC order, Christmas comes first. But if we look at the calendar, Christmas doesn’t. Aside from chronology, several excellent reasons exist to remind us (and retailers) that the Christmas caboose belongs at the end of the annual holiday train.

When we begin hyping Christmas before Thanksgiving (or, God forbid, Halloween), we gyp ourselves of the thoughtful, mindful period during which we can look back over the previous months and take stock. What went well? What didn’t go as planned? What will we do differently in the future? What will we avoid doing? And, most importantly, what are we grateful for?

When we allow negative thoughts to sour our souls and dispositions to the point that we need a chubby guy in a red suit with a herd of caribou to cheer us up, something is definitely wrong. We dilute the spirit of what Christmas is truly about by starting early. Then there’s the issue of what Christmas means to Christians, which I am. That’s a consideration for me. But, because you may not be Christian, I won’t go there.

I think we use the presents and other Ho-Ho-Ho stuff to extend the Christmas season, not to emphasize the specialness of it. And by extending Christmas at the front end, the Thanksgiving season has been effectively reduced to a single day (or, for some of us, a four-day weekend).

Thanksgiving?

In the fall, I appreciate the way the world slows down and warms up. It’s the autumn season that truly celebrates warmth, not the summer. Summer is about fire and sparkle. Autumn is about slowing down and wringing every last drop out of the world. We send the clock backward so we can enjoy one more hour of daylight each day. Instead of tossing steaks and burgers on the grill on Sunday afternoons, we hunker down and roast hams or turkeys. We start using our fireplaces for their intended purpose rather than just for display.

Both my parents have passed, and I miss them just as much as I’m thankful for them. That’s probably why Thanksgiving is so important to me. In fact, when I moved into their home and placed my stamp on it, I chose my mother’s favorite room for my office. After the remodel, the dining room’s chandelier is absent, as are the big family table and the china teacup collection. But every day–especially in November (which was also Mom’s birthday month)–this room echoes with the memories of Dad’s homemade turkey gravy, Mom’s store-bought pumpkin pie, and arguing over who would sit at the kid’s table in the kitchen instead of with the grownups in the dining room.

Christmas?

I understand the appeal of the Christmas season. For example, my nephew’s wife is a big fan of Christmas–she’d celebrate it all year if she could. Her philosophy is that the season makes her happy and there’s nothing wrong with doing what makes you, and your family, happy. She loves the colorful lights and decorations, the way her kids get excited at the prospect of family traditions and get-togethers, and the way other people are much more friendly and accommodating at this time of year. So, yes, I get her perspective, too. I’m all for doing what makes you happy.

So, I’ve talked myself in a complete circle. What was the question again?

What comes first, Christmas or Thanksgiving?

I guess the chronological date, the looking back before we can move forward, and the spirit that lives inside us is what comes first. Maybe I, in my own way, begin celebrating the true spirit of Christmas in November … and just call it Thanksgiving.

Words Better Left Unsaid: Do You Know What They Are?

The Words

I began hosting The Writer’s Voice podcast nearly a year ago. In each episode, I chat with one or more writers about the craft of writing, the process of writing, and books. I also attempt to draw out the true personality of my guests so listeners get a glimpse of the person behind the writer. This week, the podcast’s editor, Mike Royer, suggested that when writers plan what they’re going to say in advance of each episode they should also focus on … words better left unsaid.

Not only does he edit the audio and video for each podcast and its trailers, he is also a highly auditory person. In other words, he focuses on the music of the words my guests and I speak. According to Mike, attending to the words better left unsaid is the favorite part of his job. He has told me this before. Many times. In many different ways. For some reason, I never got it.

So, this week, he showed me.

The Sounds

Showing versus telling is a concept we writers learn early on in our careers. The concept is pounded into our heads over and over at writing workshops, during conferences, and in how-to books. We also learn to read our work aloud, especially the dialogue, to ensure the rhythm of the words, and the cadence and pacing, sounds right.

Until recently, I didn’t understand that we writers need to follow these same rules when we appear in public, participate in marketing events, and–yes, host or appear on a podcast. I also learned that showing how not to do something is equally as important as showing how to actually do it.

The Words Better Left Unsaid

When you hear the music of words better left unsaid, you’ll understand exactly what I mean … just listen!

Outtakes 1

Stay tuned for more outtakes – some of them are really funny!

If you’d like to learn more about The Writer’s Voice podcast, see past writers who appeared, or find links to listen, watch the YouTube trailers, or request a guest spot, click here.

Missing My Parents

Show my parents at their 40th anniversary party

50 years ago today I moved into the house where I’m living now. This anniversary is poignant and I’m missing my parents.

I was 14 years old when my family moved here and it was my parents’ “new” house. I knew I’d never see my friends again (we moved 30 miles) and I thought my life was over. (True to the friends part, false to the life being over part.)

Well, my parents are gone but the house is here and it is “new” once again. Life took me on some wild rides and deposited me at an unexpected destination. I’m missing my parents, but find much comfort in being in their home. It’s redecorated (no more flowered wallpaper, thank goodness!) and reflects my personality. But I kept one item in each room that belonged to one or both of my parents.

My parents’ presence remains, emotionally and physically. Appreciate your parents. They might not be perfect, but they’re far more important to you than you could possibly imagine.

P.S. Before (Mom’s dining room) and after (my office). If you ever attend one of my webinars (or a Zoom call) you’ll see her bookcases in the background.

Winning and Losing–and Temper Tantrums

Even if your parents didn’t teach you anything about winning and losing , when you attended school you learned:

Winning and Losing: What not to do…

  1. Lying on the ground, stomping your feet, and wailing at the top of your voice was a lousy, ineffective blackmail scheme.
  2. Punching Johnny in the nose because he made fun of the way you swung the baseball bat was a better way of being benched than becoming a home run hitter.
  3. Badmouthing those who weren’t as smart and talented you were did not earn you the spot as most popular. In fact, it didn’t earn you any spot on the Most Mentionables.

I only tried #1, above, once. FYI, pulling it in the grocery store and watching my mother scoot down the aisle and pretend I wasn’t her 5-year-old was both illuminating and humbling.

Life’s Lessons about Winning and Losing

Life teaches us many lessons, many of which are repeated often throughout our lifetimes. One of those lessons is this: we can’t always have what we want. When we can’t get what we want, we have several choices, among them:

  • Keep doing what we’re doing, without changing our methods or attitude.
  • Change our methods of trying to achieve what we want.
  • Change our attitude and accept that we can’t have what we want–either in this moment, or ever.

We should keep these lessons and choices in mind as the national political process progresses. No matter the outcome of this year’s presidential election, some people will feel they’ve won and others will feel they’ve lost.

In reality, none of us will truly lose and some of us surely will not get what we want. Always remember that life is a cycle. Spring turns into summer, fall transitions into winter. Presidents come and go.

We can stomp our feet, wail in grief, attack the people who did get what they want. We can use our words to spew our disappointment disrespectfully. In the long run, though, childish behavior won’t make anyone feel better. It certainly won’t change the fact that we didn’t get what we wanted.

Moving forward…

I hope and pray that we, as a country and as individuals, can move forward without focusing on winning and losing after the election is decided. I hope that if we feel we “won,” we can do so without gloating. I hope that if we feel we “lost,” we can do so without exhibiting spiteful behavior.

I also hope and pray that we will begin working together.

It is impossible for a country with more than 300 million people to have unanimous consent. But it is possible for us to all act like grownups and do what we can to make our lives, and this country, better. If we are unable to make changes in this cycle, we always have another opportunity to so in the next cycle.

Perspectives about Your Parents

Dad and me.

Today is Dad’s birthday. The ache of missing him competes with all the memories, the laughter, the certainty that no matter what–he was always there for me. What are your perspectives about your parents?

When We’re Kids

Of course, in the way of children, I wish the way he’d been there for me had fallen more in line with MY wishes.

And that’s how it is with kids. They think the world revolves around them. They think they should always be the first thing their parents think about when they wake in the morning and the last image they see before falling asleep at night. For the most part, parents do just that.

The reason parents don’t put their kids first all the time is because they’re not perfect. They have blind spots. Their own hopes and wishes. Histories and secrets they don’t share. Stuff they wouldn’t ever consider sharing with their children. Why? Because they want to protect and keep them safe. Even if it puts them in a bad light.

Relationship Perspectives

I look back on my relationship with my father as having occurred in three distinct phases. The first was that of a child and it was the longest period. It ended when my mother died 22 years ago. Until then, he was the autocratic parent and even though I was 42-years-old when my mother passed away (Dad was 68), I believe he still saw me as a child who needed his guidance.

Without my mother serving as a buffer, Dad and I found ourselves on new footing. We became friends, I think. We both missed Mom so much we wound up filling some of that void in each other. I saw more of his softer, vulnerable side as he learned to reach out to others.

Dad underwent bypass surgery at age 79. That event, more than anything, reshaped and redefined our relationship. Not only did the experience alter much of his perspective on life, it altered mine. He learned that he could trust me to put him and his welfare first. I learned things about Dad I’d never known–mostly events that happened to him as a small child. How the influence of his parents affected him. What monsters slept beneath his bed.

Life-changing Events

My life was never the same after that 10-day period I spent nursing him back to good health. For a short time, while I listened to him ramble, and cry, and share some of his innermost secrets, I was able to view life through the lenses of his glasses.

Without asking a single question, I simply listened. At last, I reached the perfect understanding about what had prompted him to be the person he was. I learned why he’d behaved and spoken as he had. I recognized that he–like me–was the child of his parents. The child of unfulfilled hopes, unrealized dreams … and actual fears. The child who’d wished his parents had been different but who loved them anyway.

Perspectives about Your Parents

That’s the thing about perspectives. They’re different. They originate from different places and angle themselves in different directions. So, think about it again. What are your perspectives about your parents? Have they changed? Remained the same? Why? Why not?

I’ve learned that even when our perspectives change, they don’t change the fact that regardless of who we are, where we come from, and what hurts us–we’re all much more alike than we are different.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I miss you, but I love you more.

What Writing Community Means to Me

No, I’m not drinking two beers. One was my sister’s (she’s the photographer) and, in fact, I was drinking a soda. The photo was taken during a writer’s conference where I learned exactly what Writing Community means to me.

Conferences

I love going to writers’ conferences. Ironically, the best ones I attended were in New York City with RWA the year one of my daughters turned 11 (she’s never forgiven me for going away). The other two were in New Orleans, one with RWA and one in connection with my award nomination for my first mystery, Second Time Around. (Second Time Around will be re-released early next year.) There’s no greater feeling than the satisfaction of chatting with other writers.

Groups and Organizations

I was almost thirty years old before I experienced that feeling. Until I stepped into my first writer’s meeting, I’d always felt just a step out of whack with the world. Certain things would tickle my funny bone in a way no one else understood. I thought my imagination was wonderful thing. Sometimes, other people thought it was scary. Then there was the fact that I couldn’t go anywhere, and I mean anywhere, without a notebook and half a dozen pens.

Here’s what writing community means to me: The first moment I stepped into the monthly gathering of a group of writers, I knew I wasn’t really a step out of whack with the world. The disconnect I’d been feeling only occurred with people who weren’t writers. The immediate sense of understanding, the way we all looked at life from a quirky perspective, the unique (and often bizarre) senses of humor and imaginations … what a relief to know I wasn’t alone!

Since then, I’ve felt that same connection with not only writers but also musicians, artists, and those with a creative bent to their minds. It’s the community of writers. We all understand community in the sense of society, social standing, and in business.

We see that hashtag #writingcommunity all over social media (I’ve been using it a lot lately) and it’s no small thing.

Fellow Writers

Recently, I’ve become very involved in a couple of the writer’s groups of which I’ve been a member for years: Sisters in Crime New England and the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. The interaction on Zoom during this pandemic has done a world of good for me. My boyfriend brought this to my attention. He said I seem happier and more engaged with the world. I’ve also become more productive–not only with my writing but with everything.

So, thank you, my fellow writers. You who have appeared on my podcast, who have welcomed me to your online meetings, who have helped me promote my own books and events. Together, we support each other and can accomplish anything!

Independence or Community?

In America, we either brag about our independence or gripe because we feel we’re losing it. In reality, we don’t have it, never had it, and never will have it.

You might think I’m full of baloney, but I’m not. Just read the dictionary. When you’re independent, you’re free from the control of others. You don’t rely on other people for help and assistance. You are truly autonomous.

If we’re going to bandy about terminology, we need to understand the vocabulary we use.

We can’t live independently without the assistance, advice, and assent of others unless we march into the wilderness and set up home off the grid. Otherwise, we live in a community, which means we mutually depend upon each other for support and aid.

Regardless of where we live–off the grid or in the community–we all have the ability to choose a level of autonomy, a state of being where we strive to achieve independence to whatever degree we can while also living within the community.

Problem is, independence is costly in terms of time, effort, and humanity.

When we’re truly independent, we don’t adopt the opinions of others, we form our own. We listen to as many other perspectives as we can, weigh the variety of the input, and reach our own decisions. When we only seek out the voices of those who echo our own, we’re handicapping ourselves and leaving ourselves vulnerable to those who do not believe in independence.

This world contains people who exploit the fact that few of us will ever achieve true independence. They seek to control us to achieve what they view as their own independence. Clearly, they haven’t read the dictionary, either.

Throughout this pandemic, some of us have drawn closer to our community to work together to overcome the challenges to our health, financial survival, and emotional well-being. Others of us have chosen to withdraw from the community and strike out on our own, literally striking out in harmful ways. Harmful to ourselves, to others, to our community.

We all talk about our rights and how the government grants us our rights. Well, if we were truly independent, no one would give us anything. We’d obtain what we wanted for ourselves. Truth is, we were more independent thousands of years ago than we are today. The way people are behaving these days, our society will achieve total autonomy and, instead of advancing, regress. It’s already started that downside.

The very reason we formed society (aka community) was to improve the quality of our lives. The concept of community relies upon sharing, variety, and cooperation. Let me share an analogy.

A small, six-inch long critter found its way into my yard last week. He ventured from his own community into mine, without conducting any research. When my eighty-pound dog discovered the interloper, Angus thought he was friendly and wanted to play. As you can imagine, the critter was terrified. I chased Angus into the house and examined the little guy.

I thought the critter was a baby muskrat. (We live within 100 feet of a brook that connects two large ponds.) I snapped a photo of him and texted it to my brother, who immediately pointed out all the reasons why the little guy was a dark brown field mouse and not a muskrat. Or a rat. Or a beaver. Or any other type of rodent I thought he might be.

I investigated the interloper before making any type of decision about his future other than to save him from becoming my dog’s chew toy. I also walked the yard to see if he was the scout for a band of fellow interlopers. I didn’t rush to judgment. I didn’t run off in fear. I didn’t start screaming.

I conducted my research and relied on my brother, an outdoorsman and hunter, to provide me with information and knowledge I clearly lacked. And then I acted.

How would you have acted? Not if you were in my shoes and had just reviewed your brother’s information, but the moment you found your dog playing with the creature?

I suspect that the way any of us would have reacted in this situation is the same way we react when dealing with other people. Although we crave independence and control over our own lives, some of us do not hesitate to control others and take away their independence–oftentimes by jumping to conclusions and not conducting any research. Would you have let Angus continue playing with (aka tormenting) the mouse? Would you have chased Angus away and then killed the thing yourself? Would you have let him go? Would you have conducted any research in that moment? Or would you have done something else? Some of us realize there are always more options than we alone can see?

What did you do on Independence Day? Did you gripe about the lack of public fireworks’ displays and the inability to attend a large community barbecue? Or did you sit in your own back yard with a few people you love and celebrate your own personal independence … and/or community?

Can You Walk a Mile in Another Person’s Shoes?

Until four years ago, I never watched the news on a regular basis. I never felt the need to follow politics closely or share my political beliefs. My reasons are a story for another day.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, maybe it’s because I’m growing older, or maybe it’s because of something buried deeply in my unconscious, but I’ve found myself fascinated by all the drama playing out on the world stage during the past four years.

People are ridiculously simple and complex … all at at the same time. They’re transparent and deceitful, generous and greedy, considerate and selfish. They’re also damned scary.

Normally, I’m more of a participant than an observer. But during the COVID-19 lockdown, I’ve had no choice but to limit my activities to watching and listening to other people rather than dancing around on my own. Here’s what I’ve come up with during the past three months:

The world needs more compassion and empathy. For those of you without a dictionary:

  • Compassion is being concerned about how other people suffer and experience difficult times.
  • Empathy is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

I’ll use myself as an example because, like most people, I’m my favorite person and my thoughts and feelings focus primarily on myself. I am:

  • A woman
    • Short
    • The firstborn of 4 siblings
    • Brown-haired
    • A mother

Because of inherent traits I have no control over, I do not know what it feels like to be male, 6’ 7” tall, an only child, blonde, or childless. I will never know what it feels like to have a penis instead of a vagina, be able to reach the boxes on the top shelf in the kitchen without a stool, have all my parents’ attention every day, be the butt of stupid blonde jokes, or to not be blessed with the joys and pains of childbirth.

I will never know what these things feel like. I am not responsible for this deficiency in knowledge. It is a fact of nature. My traits are immutable. I have no control over them. However, I can be concerned for men and how they suffer. I can imagine what it must feel like to be a 6-foot-tall 13-year-old girl who towers over her classmates.

You can draw up a similar list of things that describe you, traits and characteristics you were born with or experiences that can never be reversed.

My list will be different from yours. But my list is no more or less important than yours is. My traits and feelings will be different from yours. And my traits and feelings are no more or less important than yours are, either. They’re just different.

This world contains billions of people, each of whom is different from everyone else. Do those differences prevent us from sharing traits and feelings? No! Many other people in the world are also short women who are mothers, women who have younger siblings and have brown hair. Regardless of whether you or anyone else shares these traits with me, every single one of us has been the victim of prejudice, bias, scorn, and mistreatment.

Nasty stuff happens. To everyone.

I believe we need to focus on the similarities rather than the differences. And when we can’t focus on a difference–when it’s too large, too scary, or too nasty to be surmounted–we need to practice compassion and empathy.

This doesn’t mean we have to accept certain behavior, or forgive it, or forego the pursuit of justice. It means we need to be concerned for other people. No, we don’t have to embrace them and take them into our homes. But it does mean we should listen to them and respect their basic, human rights.

None of us wants to be controlled. Not by our government or other people. None of us should be controlled–by anyone.

Living by rules society has agreed to adopt is not being controlled. Being forced to live by rules a small segment of society insists on adopting is being controlled.

Why do some of us believe we have the right to control others, even when the majority of society does not agree with us? Because we don’t have compassion for others. We’re so focused on our own perspectives and pain we’re unable to step into the shoes of other people and imagine what it must be like to be them.

I think it’s time for us to start imagining more.