The truth more helpful than a lie

Blessing Musariri Shelling the Nuts

The subject of truth and lies is vast and complex, we knowingly tell lies everyday, white lies, small prevarications, minor adjustments to the truth to better fit our purpose, big fat lies, and the reasons we tell them are varied.

A little book about friends that just barely survived my childhood and I say just barely because it is there, and not long lost like many others, but the condition it is in, leaves a lot to be desired.

The illustrations have been coloured in felt pens, I added illustrations and notations of my own, including my name and address on random pages as well as a list of people who I guess may have been my friends at the time.

Anyway, in a small fit of nostalgia, one morning I took the book down to look through it — it’s called, “A Friend is Someone Who Likes You” by Joan Walsh Anglund — and between the first two pages I found an old letter from one of my teen-hood friends.

We used to write each other letters in those days, a lost art, I’d still take a letter in the post any day than an email or a WhatsApp.

There is a special kind of anticipation that can never be matched when one is faced with that post-stamped envelope with one’s name and address on it in someone’s handwriting. But back to the matter at hand: I opened the letter and read it, a smile on my face the entire time — it felt like time travel, a snapshot back to who we were.

So apparently, we had bumped into each other the previous Saturday after a long hiatus from the friendship and we had been really happy to see each other and he was glad I was in good health etc.

After some talk about new things in his life including a girlfriend, he went on to say, “I gave up on lying ‘cause it was really not necessary . . .I don’t have anything to prove to anyone else . . .”

I can’t remember the reason we had fallen out, but I do remember the issue of lying was something of a problem at the time.

It had become so that as much as I loved my friend, I could not trust anything that he told me and to survive conversations without becoming upset that I was being played around with, I had begun to take everything he said as a joke. Not funny jokes, simply nothing to be taken seriously and therefore not important enough to care about. At one point, with my group of friends, because of this particular behaviour of one of us, we all decided to play what we called, The Lying Game.

The point of the game was to tell a convincing lie and see how far you could take it before the rest of the gang figured out it was a lie (Do not try this at home, it’s a very destructive game and all the actors in this case were aware at all times when the game was in play).

I was very bad at the game simply because I generally always told the truth and everyone knew I was lying because things I had said before did not tally and also because I tended to laugh straight after telling my lie and also, just maybe, the fact that all my friends used to say, “we can read your face like a book.”

I eventually figured out that the best way to fool others was to begin by convincing myself that the lie I am telling is the truth.

I could not make myself do it simply because I was afraid of the consequences of deliberately convincing myself of something that was not the truth as I knew it.

What if I started to believe my own lies and then no longer knew what the truth was anymore? Who would I be then? Would I ever be able to trust myself and my judgment if I began to substitute truth with lies?

To a large extent, truth is subjective because perception is subjective, but some things simply are what they are, for instance, if someone tells you, I bought a new car yesterday and this is not the truth because the car is not there because it was never bought in the first place, this is a clear cut lie or a truth — that the car was not bought.

A subjective truth is more difficult to discern, such as, if someone says, I am very pleased for you that you have been chosen to represent the company at the world forum next week.

This may indeed be their truth, but no-one else has any way of knowing it unless it is duly proved in some way.

The thing is, if you have always believed that this person was jealous of you and maybe prior to their declaration they had not given any outward indication of their support, you have no way of knowing whether or not they are being honest and therefore, your truth of their feelings becomes based on your perception of that person.

So even though this person may be genuinely happy about the situation, because of what you believe about them, you maybe say, thank you, but walk away muttering to yourself that they are being disingenuous.

However, the fact here is that you have based your truth on impressions that may or may not be the reality.

Perhaps this person truly admires you and has always been too in awe to approach you confidently and maybe when they do, they don’t know what to say or they lose their confidence and don’t express themselves well.

Let’s say this is indeed the situation, which means, in this scenario, you are the one who has told yourself lies. You have told yourself lies about this person because of judgments you have made that are not based on any investigation of facts. A little confusing? Maybe, but I believe this is a truth, we tell ourselves lies everyday when we make snap judgments, when we make assumptions, when we don’t pay attention and follow up by making approximations.

We act on these lies and inform others using them as our basis and thus perpetuate the lie and if that lie is repeated enough times, it becomes a truth by consensus. This is scary. This happens daily. It’s gossip and even more dangerous because we don’t know that it’s gossip.

The subject of truth and lies is vast and complex, we knowingly tell lies everyday, white lies, small prevarications, minor adjustments to the truth to better fit our purpose, big fat lies, and the reasons we tell them are varied.

Often-times the lies are so that we don’t hurt each other’s feelings or to ease our way through communal living — no I don’t mind if you smoke, no you look great (because you know someone has put on their best dress and it doesn’t fit right but it’s the only one they have), no go ahead and eat, I’m not hungry etc. Do these lies negate us?

Would we be able to exist as a society if we didn’t tell them? Who keeps the measurement for lies and when does a lie begin to be unacceptable?

Could we survive a world in which everyone told the truth? Are we even capable? I’m sure nobody likes being lied to.

I certainly do not and that is high on my list of deal-breakers. At least with the truth you always know where you stand, even if it hurts.

In the end, it is usually more helpful than a lie.

The bottom line is that even though we are in this world together, you are accountable to yourself at the end of the day.

You can convince everyone else, even yourself, on the surface but deep down, the part of you that is connected to a universal truth, or the divine, will always know and while it will not be forced on you, it will likely manifest in other ways. There is always a reckoning.

In the Aeaop fable about the boy who cried wolf, an old man comforting the boy after the wolf really did come for his sheep tells him, “no one believes a liar even when he is telling the truth.” And this is the truth.

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