Egon Schiele – Sitzendes Mädchen mit herabgebeugtem Kopf . (Seated girl with bowed head) Wikimedia Commons.1911
“Sometimes, a lie is told in kindness. I don’t believe it ever works kindly. The quick pain of truth can pass away, but the slow, eating agony of a lie is never lost.”
Sometimes, people say that a lie is preferable to the truth in certain difficult situations; as Steinbeck says, it is “told in kindness.”
Perhaps these ‘kind’ lies might include a doctor not telling a patient the truth about their illness and life prognosis. But who does this protect….. doctor or patient?
In addition, if we constantly tell ‘white lies,’ will others sense this and lose trust in us?
“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
This is a difficult issue…..do you sometimes feel you have no choice but to tell lies in ‘small matters’?
“Because everybody lies. It’s part of living in society. Don’t get me wrong-I think it’s necessary. The last thing anyone wants is to live in a society where total honesty prevails. Can you imagine the conversations? You’re short and fat, one person might say, and the other might answer, I know. But you smell bad. It just wouldn’t work. So people lie by omission all the time.”
Think for a moment what would be revealed to others, if there were no secrecy about the truth of our innermost thoughts.
What if all of our private opinions and ruminations were displayed to those around us, if detailed thought bubbles appeared above our heads? How might this affect our lives, our relationships, our world?
Telling such truths would at times surely result in others being greatly offended……. Knowing this, we often censor the truth and tell ‘white lies,’ so as not to hurt anyone with our bluntness.
Maybe we do have to sometimes tell lies “in kindness?”
Egon Schiele – Knabe mit langem Rock. Boy With A Long Skirt.- 1910. Wikimedia Commons.
“When a person is punished for their honesty they begin to learn to lie.”
Shannon L. Alder
Learning to lie often happens early in life; as the quote says, if children are punished for the truth, they will discover that lying is a safer option.
In a punitive atmosphere, lying will inevitably develop as a response to fear. Children will become increasingly adept at telling lies to try to avoid punishment.
This is, sadly, likely to become the habit of a lifetime, unless the person is able to work on themselves and understand that they no longer have to lie or fear parental punishment in adulthood.
“It is an occupational hazard that anyone who has spent her life learning how to lie eventually becomes bad at telling the truth.”
On the other hand, if a child understands that telling the truth will be noticed, valued and praised, even when it is difficult, then there will be much less need to tell lies.
In addition, the child will be learning a valuable lesson about the importance of honesty.
Window of Perception. Dominic01. Wikimedia Commons.
“Truth is universal. Perception of truth varies.”
The way in which we see and understand truth and reality depends on so many factors. Our perception of the world is inevitably coloured by our individual idiosyncrasies, our past and present experiences, and our ways of interpreting what we perceive.
“It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves.”
Two people may see the same, or similar, sight and interpret it totally differently. These two very different paintings of waterlilies illustrate this point:
Charles Lemeur et al.Nymphaea boucheana Fl. des Serres 10. (Waterlily) Wikimedia Commons.
Monet. Waterlilies.Wikimedia Commons.
Despite this striking variation in perception, is there in existence a ‘universal truth?’ Can truth be an absolute concept?
Jung saw truth as an everlasting process, not as a static entity:
“All true things must change and only that which changes remains true.”
Perhaps the fact that change will be inevitable is a Universal Truth?
Plato regarded self-knowledge as a crucial and universal truth:
“Knowledge of the soul is the only universal truth and the only wisdom – all other knowledge is transient.”
“In science, there are no universal truths, just views of the world that have yet to be shown to be false.”
Do let me know in the comments section below if you have any thoughts on this issue…..especially any philosophers reading this.
Masks and Visages – oil painting by Rajasekharan. Wikimedia Commons.
“How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Have you ever been tempted to lie about yourself to strangers…..to create a totally new persona, an alter ego or an imagined new life?
There is likely to be less guilt about lying to a stranger… and it happens often. We’ve never seen them before, and are unlikely to meet them again, so lying, or stretching the truth, is tempting for some of us.
When we are introduced to someone we have not met before, it could be that our very first line is “Pleased to meet you.” Sometimes, this is a blatant lie!
After meeting new people on holiday, we may swap addresses and promise to keep in touch. How often is this untrue?
There are times when we lie to strangers for our own safety. For example, when arriving at a new city, if approached by a stranger and asked where we are staying, it is best to avoid the truth.
L’Intrigue (James Ensor, 1890)
“Sometimes the truth has difficulty breaching the city walls of our beliefs. A lie, dressed in the correct livery, passes through more easily.”
Some people prefer to be told lies. The truth may be too difficult to swallow, and they find it threatening.
Sometimes this happens in families where there is a kind of narcissistic offence taken at the truth. Lies will be a part of their manipulative attempts to control others to make themselves look good.
“Narcissists will never tell you the truth. They live with the fear of abandonment and can’t deal with facing their own shame. Therefore, they will twist the truth, downplay their behavior, blame others and say what ever it takes to remain the victim. They are master manipulators and conartists that don’t believe you are smart enough to figure out the depth of their disloyalty. Their needs will always be more important than telling you any truth that isn’t in their favour..”
Shannon L. Alder
Actually attempting to be truthful with a narcissist may end up a depleting and draining experience. During my own therapy, my therapist suggested I “lie to the lie” in order to manage a particularly difficult and narcissistic family member, whom I was going to see at a party.
What does this mean, “lying to the lie?”
I interpreted it as not allowing myself to get pulled into a situation that would allow the narcissistic person to manipulate or embroil me in some endless argument.
The lie I told to his lie kept the peace and I actually felt more in control of myself. Instead of challenging him, I vaguely agreed with him, ‘killing him with kindness.’ I was disarming him, rising above the lie with a better lie.
This worked because I did not have to see him very much and therefore it removed a temporary dose of stress and dread. If I had had to see him more often, I would have tried to find another way of being with him. For now, it was the ‘least worst’ option.
However, maintaining this ‘lying to the lie’ results in a very mundane, stilted and repetitive kind of conversation, where no-one can be authentic or innovative. The masks we might wear socially become fixed covers for our real selves.
“The trouble with a mask is it never changes.”
Whilst some lies are purely and obviously evil, it is difficult to come to any firm conclusions on the morality of lying in a blanket way.
There are no definitive answers as to whether or not lies are sometimes necessary to spare another’s feelings, or to protect ourselves in sticky situations……
Fire Painting F36 – Yves Klein. Wikioo.
“Lies are neither bad nor good. Like a fire they can either keep you warm or burn you to death, depending on how they’re used.”