Dear Mr. President,
While I am generally opposed to lying, and do not tell many lies, there are certain lies I tell all the time. I don't think this makes me much different from most people, and I usually carry on with little notice of this hypocrisy. The polite constraints we expect of one another in most casual conversations compel a certain amount of dishonesty. I think that most of the lies I tell are for the sake of politeness. But, today at least, dishonesty weighs heavily on my conscience.
I have been staring at this page for hours now, wondering if I have the courage to finish this story. I have written before about stigmas surrounding mental illness, the way a frank admission of depression and its effects can change the way people look at you, the way they treat you and the esteem they hold for you. I have experienced both sides of this disdain and am loathe to subject myself to it. To be honest about my struggle, to be honest about my history would be uncomfortable for me and for those who think they want to know about it. And so I lie, for every one's comfort. Or so I tell myself.
When I was very young, and for years after I was old enough to know better I was troubled with compulsive self-injury. It may ring falsely to those who do not understand this, those who see only the stigma, the cliché, to describe myself as passively affected, the direct object of such acts rather than their perpetrator. And I am theirs to judge, I suppose. My history with it is long and complicated and over. I have shut the book on that struggle, on that part of my life and, most importantly, on that behavior. But the evidence of it remains, and will likely remain on my skin for the rest of my life. I don't think it is fair that I should be judged by the mistakes of my younger self, that I should be defined by this aspect of my past, no matter how far it is behind me. When questioned about these old scars, I tell myself that those who ask really do not want to know the story behind them, and it gives my conscience no trouble lying to them. It is, after all, for their own good.
Today I was asked by some one I have slowly come to trust and I lied anyway, almost without realizing I was doing it. I don't imagine he is the type of person to ask questions he does not actually want the answer to. Because I look for his approval the same way I would look for that of a role model or mentor or even a brother, I realized even as I was in the process of lying that I was doing it for my own protection and not for his. I was lying because it is important to me not to be seen as weak or emotionally disturbed. I was lying because of my own ego, my own fear, and I could not pretend that there was any nobility, any honor, in this fiction.
Which brings me, once again, (and rather oddly,) to Wikileaks. As I hear each new story, as each new lie is revealed, I find myself wondering not at the government's dishonesty but at its justification for this dishonesty. The gossipy diplomatic cables I understand. I don't care if a US diplomat thinks Vladimir Putin is Batman and doesn't want the world to know. (Honestly, I'd be more surprised at this point if Vladimir Putin wasn't Batman, but I can see how it might cause some discomfort.) These are polite obfuscations that help every one save face. The body counts in Iraq, the corruption in Afghanistan, the 22 dead children in Yemen, however, are not lied about because they are impolite topics of conversation. These are lies of ego, lies of fear, lies born of the greater self-delusion that they are kept from the American people for our own good. Even the idea that bringing these crimes to light will put American troops in greater danger is, I believe, misguided. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan (and Yemen. And Palestine. And God knows how many other places.) know who is killing their children and empowering their corrupt leaders. This information is only secret to the American people, and it is kept secret from us not to protect us but to protect our government from our reaction to this knowledge. And there is no nobility, no honor, in these fictions.
My past is full of dark things and terrible stories and many people will not want to hear them. But I cannot pretend I hide the past for the protection of others. I hide because I am ashamed and I hide because I am afraid. And so do you. So does this government. Our greatest lie is not when we hide the truth from others but when we tell ourselves that we lie for a greater good.
I did not write this letter to call you out for these lies. Clearly, I have no moral high ground to claim. We are both liars and we are both deceived by our own lies. I wrote this letter because I have been quick to condemn your dishonesty while slow to notice the same tendency in my own life. I understand why you lie, and why you convince yourself it is the moral thing to do. I just don't think that you really believe it any more than I do.