the lie

January 15th, 2017

I’ve been very lucky in my life. I have had many teachers.

When I was a college senior, a teacher offered me a job grading papers. He was not a good teacher; in fact, his classes were notoriously bad. He offered me $2.50 an hour for a few hours a week. My budget at that time left no room for error, and even a dollar misspent would leave me without the cash I needed to wash my clothes or buy a meal. This teacher might have known what students thought of him; in any event, he was grateful for my help. When I was about to graduate, he asked if it would be okay if he set up some job interviews for me.

This was 1978, and there were no jobs for college graduates. My first interview was with a man who had a small public relations agency, although he had a big reputation. He had been president of the local PR association, and everybody knew him. I can’t recall anything we talked about except that when I told him the salary I was expecting, he smiled because it was so little. One day later he called and offered me a job. I started working two weeks after graduation. This was my first lucky break.

The office was in a nice building in a fancy part of town. My boss dressed well and drove a big car. The people I worked with were helpful and friendly. The work was interesting and seemed important. I got a raise. I learned a lot, but the longer I worked there the more uncomfortable I became. I figured out that my boss didn’t pay all his bills, or that he juggled things so that he paid what was necessary to keep things going, and ignored everything else. The problem was that I was the one who hired the suppliers for our projects—the photographers, the printers, the artists—and he was the one who didn’t pay them. This was something I couldn’t fix, and it troubled me. I felt like a liar, a con, a cheat. After about a year, I began to look for another job and found one. When I told my boss I would be leaving, he gave me a farewell party.

A few months later, I got a call from a former client at the PR agency. He told me that he had asked my old boss about me, chiding him for letting a good one get away. He wanted me to know what my old boss had said in case it ever got back to me. “He said that you had a nervous breakdown and that he had to send you back to your parents.”

***

It was ridiculously, even insanely, untrue. Here I was, sitting in another office not three miles away, working for someone else well-known in a relatively small field. But in one sobering instant I knew that as long as I worked in that city, I would have to defend myself against the lie. I had seen behind the curtain, and he had reached out in retribution to steal what little I had: my name.

Perhaps it was luck. I never again went looking for another job. Never had another interview, never asked anyone for a referral or recommendation. The next career move I made was to start my own business with an honest partner. I was 23. I kept that job for nearly 20 years.

I never even thought about my first boss, but he still hung on. Bad business practices don’t necessarily put you out of business. One day I met someone else who had worked for him long after I left. He had told her about me, she said. He had told her the lie.

The guy died in 2010. He had a very long resume.

***

Why would someone keep lying? Liars have to lie, it turns out. They have to keep lying because they are lying to themselves. They have to keep lying because they are a lie.

Over the many years since I learned this lesson, I’ve tossed nearly every bit of the name that was besmirched. In the end, nothing was lost, and the experience gave me a pretty good handle on the truth.

There is a ruckus in the news these days about lies and liars. Should the press call a lie a “lie?” Should they call a liar a “liar?” Should they call cheaters “cheaters,” traitors “traitors,” thieves “thieves,” racists “racists” and monsters “monsters?”

I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had many teachers, and so I can answer the question. Yes.

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11 Comments »

  1. Thank you for a tale beautifully told. I’ve learned that lesson from many teachers as well. The answer is always YES.

    Comment by Laura Grace Weldon — January 15, 2017 @ 1:36 pm

  2. Very well said. This Friday I will take a deep breath and step into a sad day, the first of the next 1460 days that lay ahead. Each day I will send my prayers to the Universe to grant strength to the truth-tellers and to the rest of us that must watch this unfold.

    Comment by holly — January 15, 2017 @ 2:39 pm

  3. I had a teacher in high school. He taught my English Literature class that “we were put on this earth to judge.” This was while he would make fun of the young women’s analyses because they were too “emotional.”

    I’ve been very lucky in my life too. I found a teacher like you who has shown me there is nothing further from the truth.

    Comment by Joe — January 15, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

  4. Beautiful lesson Karen. Thank you. It is so hard to anticipate how the future will be molded for our children and grandchildren but staying in the moment and telling the simple truth is what we can model for them. I had a boss after I graduated from high school and was working who invited me to lunch, asked me what I was working for and when I said to save money to go to college, told me that the hospital I worked for, a Jewish hospital, had tuition reimbursement and that started me on a path that led me through graduate school. Such an act of kindness to invite me to lunch, be interested in me, and she changed the trajectory of my life.

    Comment by Jackie Neuman — January 15, 2017 @ 3:36 pm

  5. I am covered head to toe with goosebumps and have tears in my eyes. That took my breath away. I am thankful too for all the teachers and am reassured by the fact that everyone has something to teach me. What could I ever say to you but thank you. Today and every day.

    Comment by Sarah Stanton — January 15, 2017 @ 4:17 pm

  6. Oh Amen, Yes!

    Comment by Marcea — January 15, 2017 @ 8:48 pm

  7. So of the moment.Nothing to add or subtract.

    Comment by daisy — January 15, 2017 @ 10:14 pm

  8. Somehow, in most of the comments, this was about teachers. For me it was about lies. It’s a complex thing. Here we have a saying: “between dreaming and doing stand laws and practical issues”. And sometimes that leads to things being grey rather than white. Like when I felt that our children needed to be cherished by buying them “the best” and that ended up coming from Ikea.
    I had an argument with my sister in november. In the last 5-6 years I had not seen much of her husband. He was always at the gym. I mentioned this in our conversation and she said he was often at the gym because I was “difficult” and that I had to let stuff go because he was her number one. While in reality he was really unfair and abusive to me and lied to her about it. Or at least glossed it over in a favourable way for himself.
    I guess you have to choose to intend to be truthfull and just check yourself regularly, weed out what you don’t like and say sorry for that. A bit like working in a garden. Bit by bit. It helps you develop the grace needed for forgiving people.

    Comment by Simone — January 16, 2017 @ 2:22 am

  9. Your post reminded me of a friend I have lost touch with. She was fired from her job for being a whistle blower, exposing the illegal movement of funds from one part of an agency to another, funds which were intended to help the public.

    Despite having lost her job she said she did not regret doing the right thing. It seems to me that even if people know they are doing the wrong thing, they just lie to themselves to justify their decisions.

    We must stay strong, we must speak out.

    _()_

    Comment by Jude Smith — January 16, 2017 @ 6:50 am

  10. “You know who” is a big “you know what.”

    Comment by Larry Misiak — January 17, 2017 @ 7:32 am

  11. Our new president is a non-stop liar. I am so weary of it, already. How to bear it for the next several years is the challenge.

    Comment by Clare — January 25, 2017 @ 12:52 pm

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