Je Suis Brian Williams

Brian Williams, the long-time anchor of NBC Nightly News, was caught lying, padding his resume. The media and others are aghast, asking questions like, "Why did he lie given he had reached the top of his profession and earned millions of dollars per year?"

We live in a terribly un-psychological culture -- we think being rich and successful makes a person less desperate or more secure.

Instead of having Williams admit that he lied and apologize for it, I would have liked to hear him say, "I tried to feel good about myself but never felt good enough. I constantly criticized myself. I inflated who I was hoping that somehow the reflection back from my audience would overcome my inner diminishment. Now I see that it never did and it never can."

Psychologist Julie Diamond, Ph.D., says, "Humans are exceptional liars, truth stretchers, story weavers, myth makers and data ignorers." This is not only Brian Williams; many of us are subject to such fierce inner and outer criticism that we would do almost anything to feel good about ourselves.

Here's the most common ways we desperately attempt to boost our feelings about ourselves.

SOME OF US STARVE OURSELVES. In fact, up to 24 million people suffer from eating disorders--the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. We try to not be ourselves by dramatically changing our bodies to reflect what we feel is more acceptable to the culture.

SOME OF US ARE PEOPLE PLEASERS. We easily sacrifice our own truth for fear of conflict or the need for affirmation. It's a twisted form of dishonesty where we "will do almost anything to keep others in the dark about what is going on within."

SOME OF US ARE ADDICTED TO TRYING TO CHANGE OURSELVES. Some of us try to be less sensitive, even when we are being hurt; some of us work to be more productive, even when we need rest. We struggle to be less angry, more positive, less judgmental, less vulnerable... Many of us think we should become more spiritual even though that involves hating who we really are. What powerful force keeps us speeding toward a kind of self-improvement that moves us further and further from our authentic selves?

SOME OF US DO WHATEVER WE CAN TO PERFORM BETTER. It used to be only the struggling student who cheated on exams, but not today. "Between 75 and 98 percent of college students surveyed each year report having cheated in high school." And the emphasis on grades has made cheating a regular occurrence amongst almost all children between 12 and 14 years of age where almost 70 percent of students report cheating on exams and 90 percent report copying another's homework. [1]

And how can we turn a blind eye to the importance of performance in the bedroom when annual sales for virility drugs like Viagra are over 5 billion dollars each year? Let's not kid ourselves into thinking this is all about medical conditions--men are trained to hide their vulnerability, to "inflate their resume," at great cost.

WE ALL PARTICIPATE IN CREATING A CULTURE OF DENIAL. We are complicit in creating an atmosphere that condones dishonesty. In fact, research conducted at the University of Southern California found "If you are guilty of an integrity-based violation and you apologize, that hurts you more than if you are dishonest and deny it."

Further, we do our best to forget our racist history, especially towards Native peoples and people of color. Jamelle Bouie, writer for the Chicago Tribune says the new racism is to deny racism.

Additionally, climate change denial has become a well-funded and coordinated effort designed to keep us from a truth that is more and more evident every year.

In short, we all work diligently to keep hard truths at bay.

Let's face it: Keeping the truth from others, as well as ourselves, by trying to build ourselves up or denying anything that could bring us down, is a cultural malaise, an epidemic of perfectionism and self-hatred that lurks in the shadows. Many of us live in a prison of outer or inner criteria we will never meet.

Being morally outraged certainly has its place. Clearly there are issues of journalistic integrity and the abuse of power given Williams' position. Certainly issues of class and income inequality ought to raise its voice. And there is good reason for issues of race and gender to find themselves, legitimately, into this conversation. But focusing only on these outrages also serves as a kind of psychological defense system, keeping us blind to the underlying psychological dynamics that hide in our own psyches as well as the culture at large.

Perhaps its time for a psychological intervention, a coming out of the shadows for all of us. Perhaps we could all hold up placards that read "Je suis Brian Williams--I am Brian Williams." Now that would turn our world upside down; that would be a revolution I could sign up for.

[1] Visit Cheating Fact Sheet at: