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Prevaricating


Prevaricating is defined as: "speaking evasively; equivocating". And equivocating is defined as: "using vague or intentionally evasive language". Whichever term you choose to use for it, there is a lot of this that goes on in the world today, and it happens far too often in our community as well.

I have wrestled with this for much of my life... first in myself, and then in a lot of other people. And I feel that if we could, within our community, make some serious breakthroughs in this area, it would be a major turning point in our history. I really am hopeful that we may be getting close to that point.

The fact that people prevaricate or equivocate when asked questions that threaten to show them up in a bad light hardly needs to be mentioned. We have each seen it in others when they have been out of the spirit. However, I think that there is something in many of us that starts to sympathise with the person who is prevaricating. We've been there before and we know how it feels, so we want to get the other person off the hook as quickly as possible, and we are ready to accept any shortcut that will achieve that.

Such an attitude plays right into the prevaricator's hands. They simply say something that sounds like a good explanation or a half-way decent apology, and we take the part that suits us and choose to ignore the possibility that what they said had two meanings. As I have already said, we do it because we are sympathising with the person. And this is where prevaricating can spread in a close-knit community like ours, like a disease. Until it is rooted out of your own life, you will continue to ignore and even defend it in the lives of others. In fact, you would be a hypocrite if you did not.

So obviously, we need to recognise our own tendency to prevaricate. I think it helps if we understand, first, that this IS a widespread problem. You are not alone. Let's turn this silent conspiracy between all of the prevaricators, into more of a Prevaricators Anonymous approach, where we all consciously choose to help one another overcome the problem.

Personally, I think that our focus needs to be on the starting point, that moment when someone says something (usually asking a question) that makes you feel that a fault is about to be exposed. There is in most of us a slight increase in our heartbeat when that happens. That is the sort of thing that lie detectors pick up. In lie detector tests they ask simple yes or no questions mostly, and they don't determine the lie by what you say; they determine it by measuring bodily changes... heartbeat, in particular. And so that is what you need to look for to spot the problem in yourself. Listen to your body. Prevaricators rarely tell outright lies, but the heartbeat thing still happens.

I will give an example. Someone says, "How many contacts did you follow up this month?" In the split second after the question is asked, you realise several things. You realise that you have only followed up two or three contacts. You realise that you were supposed to have followed up 24. You realise that the person asking the question is not likely to check any further for proof, and so this is a situation where you could quite possibly get away with a lie. And you realise that you don't really want to be guilty of an outright lie. All of these thoughts flying through your head at lightning speed cause your pulse to increase. That is what you need to look for if you want to track the problem down to its source. In a very short time you will be able to convince yourself that you did NOT go through all those different options (and the ones that follow) in order to hide the truth. But if you can spot the nervous reaction to the question, maybe you will be able to see that the increase in your heartbeat came because of those reasons.

In the next split second, after you have established that there is something you are ashamed of and that you may be able to hide it, you consider a list of possible answers. Obviously, you could come right out and tell the truth in the clearest possible terms, but that is the least popular option and the one you are least likely to take. You could tell an outright lie and say that you did 24 follow-ups (or more). But telling lies isn't a Christian thing to do. So you settle for something in between. It could be, "I'm afraid that I didn't do as many as I should have." And if that doesn't work, and you are asked to be more specific, you say, "I don't know off-hand. I would have to check my records." If you are pushed farther, you could say, "It was definitely under the quota; I know that, but I'm not sure by how much." There is a kind of haggle, where you could keep changing what you have said to be closer to the truth ("I would say that I did less than half of what I should have done."), hoping that at some point, your interrogator will accept your vague answer and let you off the hook.

However, in all of this equivocating, something else is happening in your spirit as well. You are developing a whole new explanation for what is going on, and it isn't very nice. You start to tell yourself that you are being attacked, assaulted, and abused. The person questioning you is being an aggressor and you are his or her innocent victim. Well, not entirely innocent, because you did fail to make your quota, but innocent in that you did not lie. You said right at the start that you did not make the quota, and they just would not acept that or let up. By focussing on this during the exchange, which more than likely gets more heated as it goes on, you will eventually be able to say to the person questioning you that you have become unable to think clearly under all of the questioning that is going on. You need time to think... time away from all of this pressure. And even if you get time away, you will be able to retain the impression that the major problem was not that you were hiding the truth, because, after all, you did give at least some of the truth. Instead, you will retain the impression that the major problem was one of confusion and a frightful misunderstanding. Whether the confusion was caused by your interrogator or just by your inability to cope with the interrogation, the main thing, in your mind, will be that there was 'confusion'. And you will be able to overlook the fact that you were the one who deliberately created the confusion in the first place.

Soon you will see your biggest spiritual problem as being the need to forgive the impatience of the interrogator. You may even be able to apologise for that. But the root problem would not have been solved. Even if the interrogator should persevere to the point where it is established that you only did two or three contact follow-ups last month... well, actually two... there will have been so much dramatics in getting there that you (and anyone else who is witness to it all) will feel that far too much fuss has been made over something that you admitted to in the first place. Certainly it is your Christian duty to forgive and overlook all that fuss, but in the back of your mind, you see that what is really causing problems in this community is so much interrogation, and you tell yourself that if you were ever the leader, you would not do that. You would trust people more and not antagonise them with so many questions. And given the chance, you would vote for a leader who does the same thing.

Can you see how diabolically deceptive this approach is? It makes strict honesty and accountability redundant, and replaces it with an easy-going lack of accountability that is eventually going to lead to no community at all. We saw it with the rebels. They were going to go and show us how it is done. No amount of warning from us could stop them from believing that a world of unaccountability would actually work. And yet they fell apart almost as soon as they walked out the door.

We've seen it in people who have stepped out on their own and tried to start their own communities without the kind of honesty and accountability that we require and they too have not been able to grow.

And we've seen it in leaders within the community who just wanted to be nice guys (or gals). They became the tools through which prevarication has flourished. "I'll cover for you if you'll cover for me," is the bottom line in this kind of leadership. It's an idyllic relationship for a while. Both sides are happy. But when examined closely, there is a lot of evidence that everything is running downhill, drawing only on the energy that was built up through years of accountability.

So let's work together to overcome this problem. Let's work on examining our own spirit and being brutally honest with ourselves. And let's stop blaming leaders for the confusion that our prevarications have caused.

Now, having said that, I also want to emphasise how important it is for leaders to be patient and loving in our attempts to arrive at the truth. Because I am the one who most often acts in this capacity, what I am writing here is basically for me. But obviously I am hoping that others of you will start being leaders in this area as well, and so when you've made some progress in overcoming your own prevarication, then perhaps you can move on to this section for some further tips in dealing with prevarication in others.

The first thing I want to say is that I love you guys. Well, no, the first thing I want to say is that GOD loves you guys. So even when I am frustrated and angry about something you've done (or more likely, just over the prevarication itself), the truth is that God loves you and is willing to forgive you for whatever, if you will just admit it and ask him for forgiveness. It is a direct consequence of our feeling that we will not be forgiven that we go to such ridiculous extremes to make ourselves look good in the eyes of others.

I hope that people can believe (on the basis of my actions in other areas, if not on the basis of what happens when you are being questioned about something) that I too love you. If you can hold onto that, it may help with regard to the awful feeling that I know you get when the interrogation heats up. I am genuinely and deeply sorry that I have not communicated more effectively and more consistently my desire to help you and not hurt you in your spiritual walk.

One of the ways that I can do this is by dealing with individuals privately. I am trying to do this more. But I have a dilemma here in two ways. One is that prevarications often come up spontaneously in the midst of otherwise casual discussion, and they seem to happen most when there are other witnesses (because so much of the motivation for prevarication is to avoid looking bad in the eyes of others); and the other dilemma is that deception comes in so quickly that it often becomes impossible to get a person to remember what was actually said if I wait until later when I can be alone with you and talk about what was happening.

When I have tried to do this in the past, the problem has generally not been resolved at the first or second stage anyway. There is something about prevarication (in particular, the process I mentioned above, where a person gets themselves worked up into a frantic emotional state about being attacked and 'confused') that seems to create a permanent blind spot in a person's mind. If it is not dealt with on the spot, it will probably never be resolved.

What I probably need to learn to do most is to be more quietly spoken when questioning people about a vague answer. The trick seems to be to slow things right down. Unfortunately, when someone is feeling panic, they often speak quickly and at great length (because much of what they are trying to do is to turn things around from what information is actually being sought to something else that will serve to confuse the issues more.) Acting too quickly on my part will antagonise the prevaricator, but acting too slowly results in everyone in the room becoming confused, and often forgetting what was said or asked in the first place.

I am also hoping to be able to include more assurances that I am not wanting to hurt people when I ask further questions.

Remember, however, that it is not instantly clear to me that someone is prevaricating either. Sometimes there are genuine misunderstandings that can be easily cleared up. But if I sense that you are getting rattled, then I start to think that you are hiding something. And if you sense that I am getting rattled, then you start to feel "attacked". In other words, the vicious cycle can be triggered by either of us, and it's not always easy to work out who started it. As a general rule, however, I think that I (or some other leader) must take the blame for heated exchanges that have come from genuine misunderstandings.

And even when you are the one who started it (i.e. because you are hiding some fault on your part), I believe that there is much more that I can do to remove the "heat" from the overall process. If we can start by getting the feeling that we are working together on a problem that requires effort from all/both of us, that may be more effective.

I won't say too much more here, because what is really needed is more practice on my part. It's very hard to "teach" something publicly to myself. Suffice it to say that I WANT to be more loving and patient in my dealings with prevaricating within our ranks. I think that when we get the idea that we are all working on our spiritual weaknesses together, and when we can all own up to our faults (whether it be prevaricating or being too impatient with prevaricating) then we will find a much more powerful sense of love and unity than what we have at the moment.


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