LITTLE WHITE LIARS
“Liar, liar, pants on fire !” Wouldn’t that be something. Close your eyes and imagine if, when telling a lie, the liar’s pants burst into flames !
No more need for confessionals, juries or reproachful scolding mothers ! And in today’s political setting, a real treat for the eyes of any pyromaniac watching Fox News. For simple people, it is easy to tell the truth. There is only one story to remember. And the truth is usually pretty easy to see if you just open your eyes.
Liars, on the other hand, have a special skill, a talent, perfected for some into an art form, with the ability to think up a lie, and think it up quick, no hesitation, no change in facial coloring, no sweat on the brow, and the boldface lie just rolls off their tongues. The practiced liar has different techniques or styles. Calm, claiming inability to recollect or recall, dismissing and dodging the truth like a bullet. And, on the other end of the spectrum, tyrants, bullies, who repeat key-words in a lie, loudly, in your face, until you are thrown off course, and convinced it you who must be mistaken.
Recently, I asked a loved one how her son was doing. Had she answered, “Fine”, I (thin-skinned in nature) would have been hurt at best, or, at worst, felt as though I was not deemed close enough to deserve the truth. She replied with a refreshing “He’s gone rogue !”, because he has. This refreshingly frank reply does not make me love him or her less, but even more. No judgement passed about this rough patch they are going through, but rather grateful that rather than serve me up some sugar-coated version of the truth, a fairy tale, socially more acceptable, she shared with me what I wanted to know. How he was.
So why do people lie ? Are all truths meant to be told ? And what is a little white lie ?
I asked a wise woman, “Shouldn’t you always tell the truth ?” After a short hesitation, she said “Yes, unless the sole purpose of telling the truth is to hurt someone”. So that gives me the rational frame I need to thank someone for the gift that is undeniably hideous. And compliment the woman who asks me how I like her hedgehog hair-do. And, at my High School reunion, when face-to-face with someone whom I do not recognize at all, and who says to me “You haven’t changed a bit”, reply with a “Neither have you” (and keep the “whoever you are” to myself . . . ).
Another wise friend, if not to say a Wiseman, reminded me of St Augustine’s definition of a lie : “a violation of another person’s right to the truth”, or a thousand years later, St Thomas Aquinas saying a lie is “a speaking against the mind”. And, to quote my wise friend, if lie you must, “lying is not to be done lightly”. Amen to that.
What for me is clearly outside this rational frame is people rewinding reality to record a new, more palatable script, erasing their responsibility of this bothersome, inconvenient truth, and the guilt that goes along with it.
To take this rant a bit further, there is also the lie told to please or glorify yourself or your undertakings. In this situation there is almost a physically palpable tipping point : when the raconteur loses him/herself in the story, adding details like toppings on ice-cream, embellishing to enhance their station or the image they want to project of themselves.
I struggle with one family-member – lovely person – who rarely tells the truth. This person is a prisoner of a strong need for self-glorification and the keeping up of appearances, even if it means telling little white lies, or often, when required, big-ass fibs.
A terrible accident occurred years ago, which I have still not gotten over, when a neighbor child seriously injured my daughter, resulting in partial amputation of my daughter’s finger. Through this awful time, I understood something I had never encountered before. How could someone not want to face the truth, apologize, show compassion, put things behind all parties concerned, and move towards healing ? The parents of the child decided to remember things differently from the way they had actually happened. When they realized just how serious the accident their child had caused really was, they decided to change the story, spin it so that things were easier to accept, and, finally, to come up with a version so far from the truth that it was, in fact, nothing other than a lie. The child, now a young woman, lives with the guilt of what she knows she did, the burden of the lie of which she has now been made a prisoner. Sometimes, when the truth is too hard to swallow, I witnessed that this is what a desperate person sees as his/her only option. In my opinion, the truth, in this case especially, is what sets you free.
I guess telling lies can be a great skill to possess, but I admit I really have trouble understanding why anyone would choose this sinuous route.
Yet another wise person told me that liars must be smart, because they have to remember what they said, to whom, and the details woven into the architecture of their web of lies.
Lucky me that I am not smart enough to be one of the little white liars.