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Bergeson column: Are you lying to yourself?

As a kid, lying was easy to understand. It was wrong. If you stole the lollipop, you stole the lollipop. If you got caught, you fessed up. Lying about the deed was as bad as the deed itself.

In fact, in the childish world of right and wrong, stealing a lollipop was no big deal if you had the decency to tell the truth when you got caught.

In folklore, George Washington cut down his father's cherry tree. However, the Father of our Country was completely redeemed for his misdeed by merely telling the truth about it. What an easy way out!

Telling the truth. It was easy, it was right, and it was always the proper thing to do.

Nobody ever told me as a child that as you moved into adulthood, telling the truth would become more and more difficult.

First, there are social considerations. If somebody looks awful, if they are wearing clothes that don't match, if they look twenty years older since you last saw them, if they have gained weight -- for goodness sakes, you don't tell them!

If the hotdish is bland, if the lefse is dry, if the coffee is cold, if the pork roast is tough, you don't just come out and say it!

If the program is boring, the soloist out of tune, the minister off base, the deceased less than a saint, the marriage an obvious mismatch, the convert a hypocrite -- you don't just blurt out the truth!

To survive, we abandon the easy principles of childhood and we learn to lie when needed.

If lying were merely to protect the tender feelings of fellow humans, I suppose it wouldn't be so bad.

When it gets bad is when we lie to ourselves. As we grow older, it seems we learn to not see the truth even as it stares us in the face.

Financial lies are the most common. Somehow people convince themselves they need stuff that they can't afford. Somehow people become convinced that borrowing is a solution.

Credit card companies love people who lie to themselves. For a monthly bribe of 23 percent interest, they will keep quiet about the truth: I didn't need it, I shouldn't have bought it, and now the debt is eating me alive!

Bad habits cause more lies to ourselves. I don't drink much. I really don't smoke that often. I only occasionally eat fatty foods.

Lies, lies and more lies.

Probably nobody deals with more lies than a doctor. Forced to diagnose a problem, he or she has to find a way around the lies people tell themselves, and then tell the doctor.

Do you take your medicine? Oh, most of the time. Do you watch what you eat? Oh, most of the time. How many beers do you have per day? Oh, a couple.

In the realm of bad habits, a couple can mean -- and usually does mean -- a dozen. Cops know that, too. A couple of beers? Ha! Must have been pretty strong beers for you to be in this shape!

Eventually, we lie about everything. We lie about how we are feeling. We lie about whether we are enjoying ourselves. We lie about how much we like other people. We even lie about love -- to ourselves, and to others.

In the final stages of lying, we don't want to hear the truth from anybody. In fact, anybody who is prone to tell the truth becomes a threat, somebody to be avoided, a person whose calls you don't take.

Children who blurt out the truth are cute, but gosh what an embarrassment. Cranky old people who say what they think are quaint, but they're nearly dead and not to be taken seriously.

As the years go on, lairs seek out other liars in order to tell each other their lies. They become groups. They form cults. They start a club. They sit in the same booth at breakfast.

The lies freeze into dogma. When you restrict your company to those who reinforce your lies, white can become black, day can become night, evil can become good, and you'll never feel the least bit ashamed.

As a child, I never imagined that the truth would become so difficult. I thought stealing a lollipop would always be stealing a lollipop!

But as an adult, I see now that I have to get up every morning and resolve to tell myself the truth.