Thursday, November 19, 2009

On lying

I listened to a fascinating radio programme (link only available for a limited time) about lying today. Apparently, the research shows that we all lie much of the time.

The programme talked about the role of lies in the fabric of our society. One panel member even suggested that a sudden switch to complete honesty would destroy our society within 24 hours. They talked about the different kinds of lies and the intentions behind them.

I thought about it. I thought about some of the deliberate lies I have told in my life and why. I have always thought of myself as a pretty honest, transparent person... and I have the bruises to prove it ;o)... but I realised there are times when I am less so.

For example, a while ago, I bumped into someone I hadn't seen for some time and learned that she had had cancer treatment in the interim. She spoke about how no-one even noticed that she was wearing a wig, because it was such a close match to her own hair. I told her I just thought she had had new highlights. This was not true. While it was a very good wig, the parting was clearly showing a glimpse of the weave rather than scalp, and I had noticed from the get-go. I had put two and two together and assumed that chemo was involved. But I didn't say so. I decided she had had enough to deal with.

I lied.

I have told friends they look beautiful when they don't (in my estimation, anyway). I have said that I am not offended by things that have cut me to the quick. I have pretended to be confident when I have been quivering in my boots.

So yes, I am a liar. And so, according to the research, are you.

But, an interesting topic was just touched on. The impact of social media.

You see, when you tell person A you can't possibly come to her house for dinner, because you have a migraine, and then a comment appears on your Facebook page from person B the next day saying thanks for the lovely time last night.... what then?

When you claim to have worked for X company in one place and deny it in another, what are prospective employers/customers to think?

With the transparency of our lives these days and the audit trail of our contributions to the various spaces we occupy, we might have to become more honest than has been our wont.

5 comments:

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēna koe e Karyn

The point you brought forward on social networking is very real. But I wonder about having to lie when clearly telling a lie can get you into as much trouble as telling the truth.

In fact, in many situations in life, neither the lie nor the truth makes any difference. While this could be argument for telling the lie anyway, one could well argue that you might as well tell the truth then.

In instances such as these, it comes down to how you feel about telling a lie

Catchya later

Anonymous said...

I freely admit to being imperfect here, but have often thought about this as I abhor being lied to, it's almost as if someone who lies to me thinks I'm stupid enough to believe them (the greater insult) - The devil is the father of all lies, so does it follow when one lies we make him our father, and we attempt walking two roads at the same time - and God cannot be present in an impure environment. Not that I'm turning this into a religious argument, but ther are many times when placed in a difficult situation, we CAN lie, or we can be circumspect with our comments. Especially when the truth can hurt - unneccessarily. Some folk take pride in ALWAYS telling the truth, and sometimes I think that could be a sin.

Karyn Romeis said...

@Blogger Hi Ken. The programme touched on the types and degrees of lies, to which I haven't really done justice in my post, but things like Santa Claus, the tooth fairy/mouse and the Easter bunny are blatant lies that are considered culturally acceptable. Oddly enough, we chose not to tell our children these lies. Then again, atheists tell me I have lied to my children by teaching them the tenets of my faith. It seems it's not quite black and white, socially speaking.

And yes, a liar needs a very good memory!

@Anonymous... although I think I know who you are ;o)... You make a very interesting point. One of the ladies on the programme described how her mother was compulsively truthful. At first hearing, that sound very noble. But then, she described how her mother would criticise people's clothes, and deride the gifts her grandchildren had slaved over for her. That was *not* noble. She didn't need to tell her granddaughter that the gift was hideous, she could simply have found something else to comment on, like the fact that a lot of work must have gone into it.

While I would initially say I also hate being lied to, I have to confess that that, in itself, is a lie. There are times when I couldn't bear the truth. There are, in fact, times I am so afraid of the truth, that I deliberately avoid a situation where someone might feel pressurised to tell it.

V Yonkers said...

I've been thinking about this for almost a day before I could comment on it.

I think the problem is we equate "lie" with "not telling the truth". However, "lying" is stronger than not telling the truth, because lying is an intentional misinformation.

With a language as rich as English, you'd think we'd have different words for different types of "lies". However, just like we have many shades of "truth", there are many shades of "lying".

My children have accused me of lying to them in the past when I broke a promise. "You said we could go..." and yet, Nana broke her hip, I was tired, we didn't have cash available, life stepped in to make it impossible to go. Yes, at the time I made the statement, I had every intention of going. But now I don't. Is it a lie? In my children's eyes (when they were young at least), I told them something that was not true.

My son (and I know you've had this discussion with your son) says he has his school work "under control". Then he fails Chemistry for the reporting period. Was he lying? In his mind, he had it under control. But in fact, the reality is he didn't. What is the truth here? The truth is that he overestimates his abilities. Is this a lie (to himself) or just a misjudgment?

And are these on the same level as the kid, when asked if he has been drinking alcohol says he hasn't, but in fact he has been drinking a bottle of Vodka with his friends? Or the child that tells you they have handed in all of their homework when in fact they didn't hand in anything? This is more serious, yet easier to handle. The truth is "you did not hand in your homework."

The examples you gave, I don't perceive as being a lie. You decided to overlook the wig because you were concentrating on her health and trying to relate to her. That was the truth. There should be another word for this type of social "truth", not a lie, but a socialism or something.

Karyn Romeis said...

@V_Yonkers As I said, it's a ticklish one. But in fact, I deliberately misinformed my friend about her wig, because I wanted her to feel good about her appearance. So, in terms of your definition, it was a lie. Not easy.