Do you ever watch the popular TV drama series House? It stars Hugh Laurie in the leading role as a brilliant and surly diagnostician. He leads a team of young doctors whose goal is to become as proficient at diagnosis as their mentor.
One of the themes of the drama is that patients always lie. In fact, as my wife and I watch each weekly enactment, part of the appeal is to discover who is fibbing, what the lie is, and why the patient fails to tell the truth in the first place.
Another regular theme is that medical diagnosis is more art than science and that medical treatment itself often produces results less than optimal for the patient - this is why the show is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for me the closer I get to my own surgery (just a little over 4 weeks to go now).
I just finished listening to a podcast from Malcolm Gladwell's presentation at PopTech! in October 2004, before his popular book Blink was published. The talk was entitled The Story Telling Problem. Near the end of the presentation, Gladwell summarizes the problem in these words: "But there is one area, perhaps the most important area of all, where we remain really really bad, and that is interpreting the contents of our own hearts..." Gladwell is referring here to something that he doesn't address in Blink; namely, that there are perils of introspection (see Tim Wilson, University of Virginia), one of which is that as soon as we are asked to explain a preference (a content of the heart), we will automatically gravitate towards the most conservative and least sophisticated choice. The act of introspection, in other words, leads us into the terrain of unintentional falsehood. We tell lies and don't even realize that we are doing so.
And the lying liars who tell them
House deals with intentional lies told by patients. Gladwell's talk deals with unintentional lies told by those engaged in introspection. What does this have to do with my unwanted journey? I am a patient and I'm engaged in introspection. Evidently, I am a liar.
I have been writing memoirs recently. I have found the experience of doing so to be liberating and meaningful. It is a process of discovery. I suppose that means that I am imposing a story line, a structure, a meaning on miscellaneouse images and remnants of feelings and contents of both the mind and the heart. It doesn't feel like lying. It feels like an exploration of the truth.
If House is right, then I am creating a pleasing portrait of myself in order to avoid harsh realities. If Gladwell is right, I am unintentionally gravitating towards a conservative and unsophisticated portrayal which does not and cannot reflect reality. Why? Because language is incapable of doing justice to the reality.
But really, it feels like I have no choice, that to create a lie intentionally or unintentionally is the only option available to me. That to participate in my own healing I have to discover or create stories of hope and resourcefulness. So be it. I will continue to tell lies.