An Inconvenient Lie

Always speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.

From the beginning, we’re taught that telling the truth is good and telling lies is bad; it might be lesson one, even before we learn the alphabet. That lesson is supposed to be ingrained on our brains from a very young age – reinforced at periodic intervals by teachers and respectable adults, lest we forget – so that we carry it through with us our entire lives. And I don’t have a problem with that; in fact, I applaud that system because I believe that truth is an important foundation of our society. No, the problem comes in with the fact that no one actually means a single word of the lesson in the first place. That’s right – it’s another case of a statement with an unspoken caveat:

Tell the truth…but only when it meets these specific criteria.

Those little asterisk start to pop up all over the place – a veritable constellation of excuses to water down, “little white lie,” or out-right ignore the facts (and, no, I’m not about to get into politics, so don’t panic). You’re not supposed to, “hurt someone’s feelings,” so people encourage you to skim off the truth when they ask you for an honest opinion. No one wants to be told they’re newborn baby looks like a bright red, screaming, wrinkled potato (I’m sorry, but unless you are pumped full of mommy-to-be hormones, a newborn looks like a newborn…and, just to complete the picture, NO ONE who has just been through labor looks like anything other than a war victim). I am the only person on the face of the planet who WANTS an honest opinion of how I look in a bathing suit (for the love of the Universe, do NOT let me walk out of that dressing room looking like a complete disaster!). As soon as someone uses the words, “give me your honest opinion,” they’re looking for anything else. What they’re really telling you is, “tell me what I want to hear.”

It gets worse than that, though, because there are repercussions to being honest that no one mentions in those oh-so-important lessons. Honesty and telling the truth come back to bite you in the ass in the form of isolation, nastiness, and gossip. People will do everything in their power to convince you NOT to tell the truth ever again. It doesn’t just come from your peers, either: people in positions of authority – people you have been taught your entire life to trust – will encourage you tell the truth and then penalize you for doing so by ignoring it in favor of someone else’s lies or discount your words entirely. Over and over, you are hammered with reasons to back down, to tuck the honesty away; after all, dishonesty gets rewarded and praised all around you on a constant basis. Examples surround us everywhere: television, newspaper, social media, popularized in movies and television shows, in books; lying is placed on an epic pedestal. Truth, in contrast, limps along in the dirt and mud, feebly trying to gain attention, usually without success.

But WHY?

Is it really that difficult to tell the truth? Is honesty that difficult a concept? The majority of little kids manage it just fine (seriously – if you ever want to know how you look in something, just ask a small child). True, if you ask them who broke something in the other room when no adult was present, you’re bound to get a whopper of a story, but when it comes to the rest of life, they have truth down pat. So why have so many people failed at keeping that lesson? And why has it twisted into this cynical point of view where people turn on the truth-teller, ostracizing them and threatening to burn them alive? Are people honestly that afraid of…well, honesty?

"No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth." - Plato

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