Why do we lie? What is truth? The Daily Prompt posts the provocative question: Is it possible to be too honest, or is honesty always the best policy?
As a fiction writer, I would ask: Can a lie be truth? And does the validity of my truth outweigh yours?
Most people I’ve come across don’t want unvarnished truth for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest, I believe, is that my truth may not coincide with theirs. Do I think that blouse looks good on you? No, but who gives a damn? If you like it, my truth doesn’t trump yours. It means that you have a different aesthetic sense than I do.
Does it cost me anything to say I like it? No. In fact, it is a cost-saving measure: I avoid an argument, hurt feelings, and being a jerk. And yes, even though I was being “honest” I would have been a jerk trying to impose my sense of truth on another.
If you are asking my honest opinion about how I think a particular choice may go over, and most people can tell the difference between a social nicety-seeking remark and true curiosity (if that person is well-adjusted), then I’ll let you know my opinion. I will not tell you anything with that air of certitude that grates on even the most patient souls.
Lies make society work, at least currently. If you tell there kids there is man in the North Pole that has a magical workshop full of elves that make toys for all the good boys and girls, you are a liar. And I would imagine you would be pissed off royal if someone ripped that veil of innocence from your child’s eyes in an effort at complete “honesty”. I know I would.
Circumstances dictate our social responses, and someone who tells the “truth” all the time is no more adjusted, or virtuous, than the consummate liar.
But that’s in “polite” society as it exists now. What about larger “truths”? What about religion?
Thanks for the warning, but I’m not here to say this religion is right and this religion is wrong, or even declare my own beliefs. Nope, I’m just making a point about the subjectivity of “truth” and “lies”.
So this is the size of the various religious groups as a percentage of the global population. Some may look at this and say, “See how many believe the same way I do. That many people can’t be wrong.”
Know what I see when I look at this? I see that no matter what slice of the pie you look at, billions think you’re “truth” is a “lie.” Massage those numbers and let it roll in your mind for a second that billions of people think you follow a lie. I’ll wait.
Come to any conclusions? I bet many thought, “Well, I’m right and they’re wrong.” Perfectly valid thought. It goes to that point about individual truths I mentioned earlier. There are over 7 billion people on the planet, each with their own set of experiences, biases, education-levels, and truths.
I’m not saying you’re wrong…or right, for that matter. You want to believe Jesus is the son of God and died for our sins? Amen. Do you believe there is no God but Allah and Muhammed is the messenger of Allah? As-salaam-alaikum. Is the Torah you’re guide? Shalom.
Am I implying that religion, or the lack thereof, shouldn’t be questioned, challenged, explored, or debated? No. All of these things lead to growth, and are necessary facets of the human existence. The lack of questioning, and that niggling voice that says “I might be wrong,” turns “truth” to fanaticism.
What about politics?
Yes. I know. Again, I’m not coming out on one side or the other. I have my “truth” and you have yours. We may agree, we may not. Anyway, I read comments on political stories sometimes. I know, I know…but, something about anonymity turns that social-lying filter off and you get raw “honesty” (or people just looking to incite a flame-war, they look very similar).
My take on some of this “honesty”:
Honesty’s fun! Our politicians hold to the “truths” of their base so much that the government gridlocks! Woo-Hoo!
And let’s think about our elected officials for a moment. A common complaint around election time is, “They’re all a bunch of liars.” Ever stop to think why they’re liars, if indeed they are? If they were honest, they probably wouldn’t be elected. Entire news channels spend 24 hours a day spinning their side’s agenda to make it palatable to the beast known as “the base.” Until election-time, when they start pandering to the moderates (read: those that haven’t picked a side).
And we soak it up like a person lost in a desert that finds an oasis soaks up water. Why? We like being agreed with. We like feeling “in” with a group. It is how we are. If that means accepting certain “truths” and lying to ourselves, many (not all) will do just that.
So, let’s wrap up this rambling rhetoric, shall we?
The truth and honesty are tricky matters. So much of what we take for granted as being the “honest truth” is someone else’s lie. Does this mean we throw all honesty out the window and lie, lie, lie? No. It means that what you consider “honesty” and the “truth” is subject to your experiences and beliefs. It may not coincide with someone else’s truth.
Social convention demands that we lie at times. Think of a child too young to have that filter. What do you do when they inevitably say something offensive to someone else. “Be nice” or “That isn’t appropriate.” Maybe even, “We don’t say that out in public.” They are being honest, but the socially adjusted know that honesty isn’t always the best policy. Even if you subscribe to the adage, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all,” you are lying by omission.
Honesty can be good, especially being honest with yourself. But “lies” have their place as well.
Of course, those reading this will draw their own “truth”; some may even reject it as a “lie.” So be it. I leave you with a video that popped into my head as soon as I saw the prompt.