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.”