Dear President Trump,
“Don’t Live Lies” is the message spray painted on a large concrete trash bin container at the edge of our daughter’s high school campus. I have no idea whether the trash container surface was deliberately chosen over the nearby retaining wall, but it does make the message more poignant and poetic since it strongly implies your life will be trashed if you live lies. That the message is being broadcast on the grounds of a high school is almost certainly not a coincidence either.
“Don’t Live Lies.” Most of us think this is good advice. Most of us are taught as children that lying is bad and that if we do it, we risk losing people’s trust and can end up isolated and lonely. Most of us understand that lying doesn’t make us happier or get us what we really want. What I don’t think enough of us are taught is that it’s equally bad for us if we live other people’s lies. I wonder if this is the angle the graffiti artist had in mind when she or he wrote those words on the trash container at the high school. I wonder if the message was a warning to students not to find themselves thirty years down the road living a life they never really wanted just because it was the life that was expected of them. Maybe the message is challenging us to make sure we aren’t taking the easy way out and living by rules imposed on us by parents, religion, society, presidents.
Remember Barbara Kruger’s installation at the Hirshorn? I told you about it last year. The part of it that’s relevant here is her emphatic call for critical thought captured in the equation “Belief + Doubt = Sanity.” The two statements are not exactly equivalent but they are related in important ways. If something doesn’t feel right, doubt it, question it. If something feels too right, doubt it, question it. Just because your president (you) says that certain groups of people are violent animals, doubt this, question it. Just because a pastor says that gays are an abomination and should not be allowed to marry, doubt this, question it. The way to withstand lies, even those that are as close as the air we breathe, is to wake up and actually look at what is and isn’t going on around us.
May we be safe to see and tell the truth.
May we see we will be happier not living other people’s lies.
May we see that our country will be healthier if we stop living the lies we’ve collectively clung to.
May we accept that real peace depends on embracing messy truths that empower us all.