A lie away from being truthful


We all lie. To even claim otherwise would be a lie and lead us back to my first statement. Since lying is such a universal thing, it has never bothered me much. I lie just as much as a normal human being does. When my mother asks me if I had a healthy dinner, I lie. When my Project Guide asked me for my status, I lied and aggrandized my position. When my office mentor asks me if I had gone through that presentation, I lie and say that I did so while in reality I did not even know the presentation existed. Lying is something we do with such alarming regularity and normalcy that quite often we do not realize it when we lie.

But nothing lasts good, forever. Even an inveterate stalwart liar does slip up eventually and his lie is uncovered. So for normal humans such as you and I, the chances of getting caught are much higher. As children, still novices at this ancient art, we used to get caught a lot more! From the days of the proverbial Johny, we all used to steal sugar and then deny it too! One of my earliest memories of my own childhood is a rather sombre one. While playing with my G.I.Joes one day, I tried to make one of the Joes perform an Olympic somersault followed by a Canon blast. The ensuing projectile flew across the living room and rammed into the glass showpiece. The sharp pitched crash that followed brought the whole house to my scene of crime. My mother vigorously started checking if I had any glass pieces on me and once I had been certified 'glass-less', the scoldings began. But I refused the whole thing! I claimed that I had been very far away from the showpiece (which was true as my projectile had managed to cover an impressive range! Strange how I sucked at shot-put in school though) My mother started scolding me more for lying but I still steadfastly stood to my story. Finally my father who usually protects me when my mom goes ballistic stepped in and gave me a tight slap with a warning - 'Never lie'. I went to sleep crying that night still claiming innocence.

Looking back at that event after all these years, what surprises me is not the fact that my usually calm father got so enraged over my lying but that even when all the odds were stacked against me and my flimsy tale, I still stuck with my lie!! Why did I do that? To save me from loss of face? I don't think I was old enough to even appreciate that I had any face in my family! I mean these are all people who had seen my actions in a diaper, how much face could I possibly save after all that?
No, I think that somehow we human beings are deeply wired to stick to our lies. For a moment, just compare this with the conviction that people show towards the truth. During discussions with friends, on many occasions, I knew that what they were saying was wrong and that what I knew was the truth, but still I usually do not speak it out loud for fear of hurting their feelings.

Let me tell you about this one time when I saw a guy at school put dirt into another guy's tiffin box.  I did not know either of them, so no question of partiality there. But when my teacher asked who had done it, I kept quiet. Why did I not speak out the truth? What if the teacher had directed that question right at me, would I have reacted differently? I highly doubt it. I would have just said I did not see anything.

Standing up for the truth is one of the most romantic and most venerated of all ideals. Be it religion or atheism, truth is often the most ideal of ideals. And yet, it is such a treacherous one. Why is it so difficult to be more truthful in our everyday lives? Practical people often say that man is a selfish and rational creature. Between lies and the truth, he will pick the option that offers him greater rewards. Religion makes this simple reasoning much more complex by the idea of 'short-term' and 'long-term' rewards. Would you lie to save your face for ten minutes or say the truth and preserve the purity of your soul for eternity? Now that's what you call a loaded question!

If humans were meant to be truthful beings then why is it that right from childhood when we are supposed to be pure and innocent, we show greater disposition towards sticking to our lies rather than our truths? Are humans supposed to be intrinsically flawed creations who lie or speak the truth as they will? Are we all such randomly programmed sentient beings? Is there no greater thing than the necessity of the now and recent future? I would like to think not. For no other reason than that it makes me feel nauseous to think so.

As I reflect more and more on my two anecdotes, I arrive at an interesting argument. Lying is often a deeply, deeply personal thing. It is so deeply intertwined within us that even though there is a conscious part of us which condemns lying, there is another cog that keeps the lying wheel rolling. And when our lies get exposed, we are more often that not, standing up for ourselves! To be more accurate, the part of us that condemns lying is forced to stand up for the incorrigible liar inside of us. But being truthful is a very tricky game. Truth is never a singular affliction. Truth requires you to stand up for everyone at the same time. You cannot be truthful to one person and dishonest with another at the same time in moral transactions. While lying is a many shaded dye, truth is always freshly starched white. It is a burdensome, absolute standard that we are asked to bear, not for ourselves but for everybody, while lying is simply you carrying your own water. Even a child knows which is the easier task.

Just because lying is easier to defend, does this imply humans prefer lying? That is a risky question and I would not like to imply such causality. All I will say is that even wannabe truthful people often lie because it is easier to deal with.

A society where everyone shared my pessimistic viewpoint would be a starved one without doubt. All societies have been blessed with a few individuals who perform not just their expected moral duties but also stand for absolutes such as their faith in Truth. Mahatma Gandhi believed in no Law higher than the Truth and lived his life based on that conviction. Theists will agree on Dharmaputra's umbilical and sometimes strained connection with the Truth during even extreme hardships. Common folks will always empathize or more likely sympathize with Raja Harishchandra. Such people inspire us. They make us strive to live tomorrow as slightly better people than we are today. They are the crepuscular rays on our cloudy lives. Truth is a rigged game which offers a much simpler shortcut of lying. We have the power to choose. As they say, it is in moments of choice that the autonomy of Man is asserted. Nature or God lets you assert yours when you break glassware and look up to angry faces. 

Popular Posts