Then one day the emperor requested a solo from each musician. The flutist was unnerved. There wasn’t enough time to learn the instrument. He pretended to be sick, but the royal physician was not fooled. On the day of his solo performance, the impostor took poison and killed himself. He refused to “face the music.” This musician’s story was told and retold until it worked its way into the English language and gradually became synonymous with any of us having to “face the music” in our own lives.
Facing the music is incredibly difficult for all of us and so many of us work hard at finding ways to pretend, hoping and praying that we never have to face the music. Content with pretending, many preserve deception(s) and only regret what they have done if they are caught. For example, according to a recent national survey, more people admit they have cheated on their marriage partners than on their tax returns or expense accounts. More than half say that if their tax returns were audited, they would probably owe the government money. About 1 out of 3 people admits to deceiving a best friend about something within the last year; 96 percent of them feel guilty about it. Nearly half predict that if they scratched another car in the parking lot, they would drive away without leaving a note, though 89 percent agree that would be immoral.
The unfortunate reality of pretending is that we live in constant fear of being found out. Will the emperor ask us to perform today? Such is our fear of facing the music, we live in silence even while watching others being caught, hoping our time will not come.
Whether or not we are asked to play before the emperor is really not the issue. The consequences of pretending have their own effects, even if no one else knows the difference. Living a life of deception ultimately results in a failure to understand our own selves. The longer the deception, the greater the lack of understanding. Over time the gulf between who we actually are and who we think we are so widens that we barely know who we are. Recognizing the inconsistencies, others will distance themselves from us, including our spouses, our children, our co-workers and our friends.
The answer is to choose not to pretend. Deception poisons your life, hardly making it worth living. Be honest with yourself, your friends, your family, your co-workers. Live without fear of someone somehow discovering who you really are. Then if you are ever called to face the music, you can play the notes of your life without fear or regret.