Why politicians are fine with lying

Newsletter: July 2024

Greetings again and as we move on from the election here in the UK, wiping the lies, half-truths and evasions from our boots, you find me with something on my mind: our capacity to talk shit with apparent honour. Do you wonder about this? The ability of humans to lie endlessly, yet somehow imagine ourselves worthy of attention and respect.

‘Do you feel comfortable saying that?’ asked a Radio 4 interviewer last week when a politician was clearly lying in order to attack a rival. The untruth wore a neon jacket and Christmas lights; it wasn’t hard to see. But the politician – a Tory, in case it matters – proclaimed he felt not only comfortable to speak as he did, but morally obliged to do so.

Wow. He was turning the lie into a moral crusade; and once you do that, really anything goes.

And how can they do it? It’s like a cess pit imagining itself a lake. And the answer, as you already know, is: Buffers. It is our buffers which make these things horribly possible and entirely routine.

As buffers on a station stop a train, so our internal buffers stop awareness.

It was the late great Maurice Nicol who coined this use of the word. And it is the particular task of buffers to protect us from the contradictions within, which are difficult for us to face. It was, for instance, his psychological buffers that helped Stalin return home for afternoon tea with his daughter (as was his habit) after ordering the murder of ten thousand other daughters that morning.

In his mind, here was a good man paying due attention to his daughter. As he probably thought: ‘The world needs more fathers like me.’

Buffers also help John to feel good about himself when he donates £10 to a children’s charity after spending £2,000 on new sound equipment. Thanks to his buffers, John thinks the world would be a better place if there were more generous people like him.

Buffers are a deft psychological trick, ensuring we do not truly glimpse the chaos within. They enable us to believe what we want about ourselves. So a head teacher, out of jealousy, acts vindictively against her deputy, calling it ‘much needed staff development’ and, thanks to her buffers, feels entirely justified.

Buffers are not all bad, of course. They are there for a reason – to stop our mental train coming off the rails. If all our contradictions entered the room at the same time, if all our insanities, blindness, malice and pain burst in upon us at once, we would not survive.

Sometimes they protect us from difficult memories, which we have no wish to revisit. Buffers are there for a reason. They try to contain and box in the trauma.

If our buffers were removed, we would see and feel too much. We would weep at the state of ourselves and look to the heavens for help. With these blockers in place, however, there is no need for concern, for in our minds we are the most reasonable people on earth.

And so it is that buffers have been friends of our survival story, protecting us from difficult feelings; but the enemy of growth, for they deny us self-awareness, keeping us comfortably numb.

Buffers are the children of fear; they are fear’s creation. If someone fears the truth of themselves, the buffers develop and remain untouched, unchallenged and active within us, sent into action daily. Working with, through and around these buffers is a significant part of the therapy journey.

And perhaps most important in their gradual dissolution is a sense of safety. What a change this brings. If I feel safe, what is there to fear from the truth of myself and my story? I think of the young David preparing for his fight with the giant Goliath. He was offered armour but refused it. Armour would protect him, but also constrict him, limit him, stop him being himself, which is what buffers do.

In the end, buffers are the clunky psychological armour of fear. But what if there is nothing to fear? What if nothing can harm you? What if there is life beyond fear where the darkness is dispelled? What if there is no shame – only grace and strength?

I wrote about these things in The Journey Home, published by Bloomsbury, just when Harry Potter was getting going. Clearly I couldn’t compete with the brilliant Hogwarts. But should you wish to take a look at the unlucky loser:

The Journey Home

Some have liked it.

And I think my Eckhart retreat at Sheldon in August may have one or two places available still. Details here:

Meister Eckhart: Counsellor, disturber, friend

For now though, my best wishes to you as summer deepens and reveals its own particular challenges and glories.
We shall not fear. And if we do fear, we may speak with it… but not bow.

And as for our new government: what lies ahead?

Simon x

Photo by Hannah Reding