‘Tell people the truth, because they know the truth anyway.’
Nephew: You said we shouldn’t lie about ourselves. What about lying in general? Is that okay?
Uncle: Do you expect me to say ‘yes’?
Nephew: On past performance I wouldn’t be surprised.
Uncle: Well, my answer is no. Don’t lie. Don’t purposely deceive someone, even though what you say might technically be the truth. Why do you ask?
Nephew: A friend of mine texted me. He wants to know if he’s ugly. That’s awkward because he has a head on him like a robber’s dog. What do I tell him?
Uncle: Do you know why we shouldn’t we lie?
Nephew: It’s dishonest?
Uncle: . . .??
Nephew: What then?
Uncle: We shouldn’t lie because when we don’t, we benefit.
Uncle: When we lie regularly we get good at it, and we lose sight of the boundaries of when it is alright to lie, and when it isn’t. Then we end up living on the surface of life, skimming from one lie to the next. Our life lacks substance. Close relationships become shallow, because lies eat away at trust and intimacy. On both broad and intimate levels, lies disconnect us from humanity. They violate us.
Nephew: I was just about to say that.
Uncle: After a while, we may start believing our own lies, and then we look like a goose. And when we are caught out lying, and try to justify it by saying the recipient deserved the lie, or that it’s okay to lie because everyone lies, then we look even more like a goose.
Nephew: We spiral into goosedom.
Uncle: Yes, and because we are not confronting the problem honestly, we don’t get to properly solve it. The philosopher Robert Tilley said that ‘when we lie we apprehend the ghostly, the void . . . we sense the abyss.’ He’s right. We can feel the violation when we lie. We know that each time we lie we create discord within us, and we like ourselves less.
‘When we lie, the more fear we feel, for we are drawing closer to the inner rooms that are haunted.’
‘Lying is one of the fastest ways to erode your self esteem. Every time you lie . . . to get some sort of result, regardless of how successful you are, your subconscious is aware you had to lie to get there. What you actually do is reinforce a negative belief about your value as a human being . . .’
Damien Diecke, in his book, ‘Sincere Seduction’
Nephew: Alright, we shouldn’t lie. Got it.
Uncle: That’s right. Then we won’t have to suffer the anxiety of being caught out, and we won’t spiral into goosedom. Other people will trust us more, and more importantly, we will trust ourselves more. We know we can depend on ourselves because we are not driven by the need to gain. That indicates self-sufficiency and resilience.
Uncle: Name me one sign of maturity.
Nephew: . . . not lying?
Uncle: Correct. We don’t one day suddenly stop lying. To get out of the habit requires a firm decision, time and diligence. We don’t simply acquire honesty and integrity; we have to cultivate them.
Nephew: Bulldust makes great fertilizer.
Uncle: When we don’t lie, we know that what we say has substance, so it feels like we ourselves have substance. We know that what we say counts, that it matters. And so, in that unassailable position, we feel safer in the world.
Nephew: So, I should try to be truthful? Great. Now I can tell my sister her drawings suck.
Uncle: Can you find a way to be truthful and positive?
Nephew: How about: ‘That drawing doesn’t suck as much as the last one’?
Uncle: Something like that.
Nephew: Lying is natural to our species. It’s an innate behaviour. You’re into innate behaviours.
Uncle:Yes, the ability to deceive would have conferred upon us a significant survival advantage. But we can do more than just survive; we can grow.
Nephew: It all sounds good in theory, but the rest of us live in the real world.
Uncle: To live openly and honestly is a big advantage in the real world.
Nephew: Not really. There are benefits to lying. I could lie about my qualifications. There are all sorts of benefits.
Uncle: True. I guess you have to decide between building a person and building a career.
Nephew: That’s not fair. My sister lied on her resumé and she now has the perfect job. She is good at it and she’s happy. Had she not lied she would have missed out. And she’s a good person!
Uncle: I don’t have the wisdom to take into account seven billion personalities with countless scenarios, and come up with flawless material. I understand that it might be worth lying to gain a long-term benefit. But is it wise? I don’t know.
Nephew: Shouldn’t you be more certain of your material?
Uncle: When I am certain of my material it’s probably wrong.
Uncle: Besides, does my advice always have to be one hundred percent correct? Does the occasional exception to my advice mean what I say is wrong? Should we ditch the proverb ‘He who hesitates is lost’ because we can think of exceptions? Should we ditch the proverb, ‘Look before you leap’ because we can think of exceptions?
Nephew: Should we ditch both proverbs, because they contradict each other?
Nephew: White lies are okay, aren’t they?
Uncle: Praise a lousy singer and you set that person up to be embarrassed.
Nephew: Praise them and they might persist and improve.
Uncle: You’re making some good points.
Nephew: Now it’s your turn.
Uncle: Cheeky blight.
Nephew: Alright. You don’t need to answer to my question. I’ve figured out your answer.
Uncle: Ah, yes, your friend, hit with the ugly stick. He wants to know if you think he’s ugly. For a start, you’re not obliged to express an opinion. It’s not fair that he asks.
Nephew: But he has asked.
Uncle: Then lie.
Nephew: Lie?! But you have just finished telling me all the reasons why we need to tell the truth!
Uncle: No, I told you all the reasons why we benefit by telling the truth. Now and then we can act with kindness and forgo that benefit.
Uncle: Your friend asked that awkward question because he wants to be reassured. Reassure him.
‘“Nothing but the truth” is the wrong maxim if things other than truth matter more. The most obvious examples are of courtesy and concern for people’s feelings, where kindness matters more than revealing the full, naked truth. Even here, however, we need to be careful. There is a risk of second guessing what is best for people or what we think they are able to deal with. Normally, it is better to allow people to make up their own minds on the basis of facts. Withholding truth for someone’s own benefit is sometimes justified but often it simply diminishes their autonomy. This is what Kant got right when he claimed that lying violates the dignity of man.’
Julian Baggini, in his article, ‘The Whole Truth’, in prospectmagazine.co.uk
Uncle: And if your sister is proud of her drawings, tell her they look good.
Nephew: Undermine myself?
Uncle: Yes. By the way, about one person in every hundred is either a sociopath or a psychopath. Rarely do they commit the atrocities you find in the movies; instead, they live their lives the way you and I do but without regard for others. They lack empathy, compassion and remorse because they are not ‘wired’ to experience those emotions. They tell lies to get what they want, and they are good at it. They appear genuine and will fool you every time because they don’t exhibit the usual cues that would give a healthy person away. Some of them run large companies or organisations; others destroy large companies or organisations. They are good manipulators. You have met them and not realised it. You will meet them again.
Nephew: You’re giving me the heebie-jeebies.
Uncle: I’m giving myself the heebie-jeebies.
‘Truth may be seen as a bone that we, puppy-like, bury and re-bury in a thousand backyards and rubbish dumps – in poetry, painting and song – for the sheer, tail-wagging pleasure of finding it again. Even just for the joy of the hunt. Sometimes, of course, we forget where we hid our truth; sometimes we even forget there ever was a truth to find. Then we persist with the hunt for a while but soon, deprived of possibility, forget that there was any fun to be had and give up. That’s when we settle down, head on paws, in front of the telly. That’s when we slip into Blubberland.’
From Elizabeth Farrelly’s book, ‘Blubberland. The Dangers of Happiness.’