Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lies vs. Truth

I was recently smacked in the face with the discovery that someone I know is a big, fat liar. I took this rather personally until I also acknowledged that said person is a big, fat alcoholic as well. Nonetheless, without turning this post into a “Dear Diary” type of bullshit, I’ll just say, the discovery that someone you trusted has lied to you feels like the ultimate betrayal. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt like a fool. Especially when it’s from a friend you believed you had a good relationship with—one where you know you can be honest, because your friend won’t judge you, no matter what.

So last night when I was finishing Intimacy, a novel by Hanif Kureishi, one passage stuck with me. His story is about the end of a relationship: Throughout the story, the protagonist plans to leave his lover and their two kids the following day. Now, clearly the personal betrayal I mentioned is not on the level he describes, as it was from a friend, but it still made me think again about my situation:

“Lying I don’t recommend. Except in certain circumstances.

Susan, if you knew me you would spit in my face. I have lied to you and betrayed you every day. But if I hadn’t enjoyed those women I wouldn’t have stayed so long. Lying protects all of us; it keeps the important going. It is a kindness to lie. If I’d been good all those years, who’d have been impressed? God? A world without lying would be impossible; a world in which lying wasn’t deprecated is also impossible. Unfortunately, lying makes us feel omnipotent. It creates a terrible loneliness. Here, tonight, I feel cut off from you and from everyone. Truth telling, therefore, has to be an ultimate value, until it clashes with another ultimate value, pleasure, at which point, to state the obvious, there is conflict.”

Initially, I took some solace thinking about the isolation—and hopefully, regret—the liar in my life might be feeling. Unfortunately, then I realized that’s probably not happening, due to the alcoholism, since you don’t often recognize the repercussions of your actions when you’re constantly in a blackout.

But on a bigger level, when, if ever, is it truly ‘a kindness to lie’? Or is that just something we convince ourselves when we’re telling the lie?

I’m not claiming that I’ve never told a lie. But I’ve certainly never based an entire friendship around lying. How sad, to discover that so much about your friendship or relationship with a person is based on his or her lies. What do you take away from that? Would you rather never find out the truth?

Right now, I’m not sure how I feel. But I think it’s an interesting discussion, one that I hope mentioning didn’t come across too “Are you there God? It’s me, Alison.”


  1. So I just started watching a new tv show called 'Lie to Me' about a man and his company that use micro-expressions to tell if people are lying. It is so interesting. In certain segments they will do a brief video montage of famous people (politicians, movie stars, etc) all making the same face or movement. What does this prove? That all people who lie make similar movements and gestures. Lying is universal. so intriguing...we are taught to lie and we are shown that it is okay to tell 'white lies' because they protect others. I think you're right in asking the question of 'when is it kind to lie.'

  2. Hello Alison, it's God.
    The Jewish one.

    hmm. I recall reading "Antigone" in a highschool english class, and at some point, and I cannot remember why, but my snarky, snotty teacher asked me I would "lie for my friend", and I tried to squirm out of it. But he kept on trying to fuck me up by pointing out my hypocratic decisions- yada yada- until I finally yelled in front of the whole class "YES! HELL YES I WOULD LIE! I WOULD LIE FOR MY FRIEND AND NOT EVEN BLINK!"

    I believe (and I'm God, so...) that omission of the truth has a very positive place in the world. If justice was really consistantly justice, lying wouldn't be such a necessary evil. Sometimes people tell the truth just to be brutal, just to be crass and mean. Not to be righteous or thoughtful.

    Circumstance should dictate the nature of the lie. Compassion can often make a lie into a blessing. White lie, black lie, orange lie. A lie is a lie is a lie. and sometimes we don't want or need to suffer the truth.

  3. I think the ultimate mystery is the endless lies that we constantly tell ourselves. It becomes such an intricate web of self-preservation that it seems like, in the end, how will we really know what's real and what's not? By the way, you do a really great job of relating your very personal thoughts to greater topics.

  4. Ok... I think I am officially your dumb friend! why is everyone typing in correct grammar and using all these big words? anyway... your writing reminds me of Marian Keyes, have you ever read. go read it. its funny.

  5. Diana! you are hysterical.but stop it, it's only my 4th day here...I can't be the creep giggling at my computer already!