Who loves to be told the truth – always? Everybody, I suppose. Who loves to be told as much as a lie, just one lie? Nobody, I guess. But the irony is that the same Everybody who always wants to be told the truth, the same Somebody who abhors lies, and would not even accept as much as a slice of lie, is the same Somebody that tells lies, or, at least, has told one before – for one reason or another; in one way or the other. I should immediately give kudos to whoever hasn’t told as much as one lie before – including the infamous white lie; yours is definitely the kingdom of heaven. And I hereby exclude such a person from the sweeping generalization I earlier made – that Everybody tells or has told a lie before.
If Adam had his way he would have told God a lie; he resorted to the blame-game because no lie was readily available. Eve had no option but to resort to the last option: blame the serpent. I bet Adam and Eve would have “lied” if there was a third human party in Eden. Their actions reveal that humans are hardwired to evading responsibility, which is one motivation behind lying. However, the point I’m driving at here is that human nature is wont to lying. Put differently, lying is a natural disposition. How so, one may already be wondering. Simple: the very first law of nature is self-preservation, and lying is its loyal and faithful servant.
Moreover, the higher life we all aspire to abhors lying. In Christian ethics, for instance, lying is a no small sin. It is so big a sin that Apostle Paul mentioned it as one of those sins that could deny one access to the kingdom of heaven; he even ranked it with sexual immorality. Everyday morality sees telling of lies the same way. There is this way a liar is just seen as an undesirable element and a thief. For lying, a spouse could go as far as suing for divorce; it is grave matter.
The simultaneous ubiquity (almost everybody does it) and abhorrence (everybody hates it) of lies got me thinking. Why should a liar hate being lied to? This is funny. And to this effect a joke was once told, one for which you’ll die laughing:
A burglar found this sign on the door of a safe house he was about to blow: “Please do not use dynamite. This safe is not locked. Just turn the knob.” The instant he turned the knob a sand bag fell on him, the premises were flood-lit and sirens woke the entire neighbourhood. When the Master visited the man in prison he found him bitter: “How am I ever going to trust another human being again?”
[Adapted from Anthony de Mello’s One Minute Nonsense]
Now, it is important to know and understand why people lie. Of course, this knowledge wouldn’t justify any one lie. It will essentially serve two reasons: firstly, knowing the motivation behind lying will help us discourage lying in those under our watch. For instance, being in the know that fear can cause one to lie, one may choose to always begin one’s interrogation by allaying the other of their fears. Secondly, this knowledge will help one in classifying and relating with liars. Pieces of information from one who is wont to lying to deceive, for instance, would have to always be double-checked.
1. Some people lie because they’re afraid: The classical example here is Sarah, the patriarch Abraham’s wife. Her immediate reaction to the prophecy of her childbearing was laughter. And when she was queried to this effect, she lied – “because she was afraid.” Yes, some people lie because they’re either afraid of punishment or may risk losing something dear to them telling the truth. How on earth is a woman supposed to tell her husband the truth of her cheating, or a husband tell his wife of his? Who is not afraid of divorce?
To relate with people whose lying is motivated by fear: always allay them of their fears. In this regard, a mother may tell her son that he should simply tell the truth and that’s it, no big deal. These people should know that truth sets free – in one way or the other. Of course, put mosquitoes away and malaria is no more.
2. Some people lie as part of being over-protective: Parents and guardians are particularly guilty here, including friends and self-acclaimed well-meaning acquaintances. The thinking that a child be protected from the devastating effect the news of a parent’s death may bring may lead to his/her being told the parent travelled faraway and won’t be coming back for a really long time. In a bid to install sexual restraint in a daughter, mum may conjure up all kinds of lies, with some as terrible as “you’ll get pregnant by any form of bodily contact with the opposite sex.” And when the child discovers it was a lie and confronts such a parent, the response is usually: “I said it for our own good; I was protecting you.”
How do you relate with these ones? You may not doubt their protective intent, but since all lie is lie you may wish to begin to cross-check facts that seem overly protective coming from those quarters.
3. Some people lie to retain their holier-than-thou reputation: Some people want to be more Catholic than the Pope; they want to be more American than Americans. Having gained the holier-than-thou reputation, the next thing is to retain it. And so, when they do things that are inconsistent with this reputation, they can tell all the lies on the planet to cover up. They will say things like: ”How on earth do you think I’m capable of a thing like that? Don’t you know I’m a holy person, and don’t you know that people who do such things will burn in hell?”
These ones are simply deceiving themselves; leave them.
4. Some people lie to mislead: Many teachers and preachers belong here. Because they want to win people over to their side of the divide they tell lies. In a bid to grow their own congregation some pastors will say all kinds of horrible things about other churches, so as to have members of those churches being disparaged come over to theirs.
One should particular not be gullible. Always cross-check. Always think. Always research. Always ask questions. And, importantly, never take anyone that castigates others seriously.
5. Most people lie because they’re thieves:
The classical example here is Judas Iscariot. He would protest that the 300 denarii worth of ointment being splashed on Jesus’ feet would have been sold and the money given to the poor, not because he cared one bit about the poor but because he was a thief. The most potent instrument readily available to thieves is lies, which is why it’s a consensus that liars are thieves – if not of material possessions, of truth.
Oh, no! The only way to relate with thieves is to keep them at an arm’s length. To suspect their every word and deed. Yes, to show them charity, but from a distance.