Conversations with strangers never fail to amaze me. Quite a few weeks ago when I had arrived back in the city from school I had the most intriguing conversation with another student from my university, turns out he knew the friend that I was with (names will be withheld as I’m not too sure if they would like it disclosed). As a political science major and an active participant in theater, he expressed that both actors of the theater and politicians are good liars and good at the “art of persuasion” (if it may be called an art) in which some are naturally better than others. The objective of the actor is to convincingly persuade the audience into believing that the plot, the character itself and their interactions with the other characters are believable. The actor must be able to persuade the audience into believing that the presented spectacle being viewed is realistic and to re-embody and invoke in the audience emotions that imitate the realities of everyday life. Similarly, politicians use different types of arguments to invoke within the public a sense of rejection or acceptance on given issues to gain and sway support.
If what my friend has suggested is true, that some are naturally better than others at the “art of persuasion,” then would it be appropriate to suggest that some are “born” liars? Or, maybe certain types of social environments create arenas in which the “art of persuasion” is necessary and therefore fostered and naturalized into everyday behavior; but if this is the case, then why is it that some will chose to not engage in lying whereas others will, or that some will chose to commence in different degrees of lying for instance, “white lies” rather than lies of grandeur? Is there a measuring scale of “appropriateness and acceptability” for lying? Are there times in which lying like “white lies,” are appropriate and necessary because the one doing the lying, the liar, is merely trying to “protect” the emotional well-being of the other? And from this stance, if one is making the decision to “protect” the emotional well-being of the other, is one merely implying that they know best thereby removing the other’s opportunity to make an informed decision on their own? Although there are many other questions that can be posed, I think the questions can be boiled down to the following: (1) Is lying ever acceptable, and if so under which conditions, (2) assuming that the one being lied to is unable to make an informed decision because information and/or the truth has been withheld from them, who should be held responsible if the decision made yields negative and/or positive results, and having such, are individuals ever, truly able to make an informed decision, and lastly (3) why does one engage in lying, for what purpose does it serve and to whom is it detrimental and/or beneficial for?
Another remarkable aspect of “lies” is the notion that within the English language, there are many words that mean and/or connote “lie”. According to http://www.dictionary.com, “lie” is defined as the following:
1. A false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood
2. Something intended or serving to convey a false impression; imposture
3. An inaccurate or false statement
4. The charge or accusation of lying
Lie (v. used without object):
5. to speak falsely or utter untruth knowingly, as with intent to deceive
6. To express what is false; convey a false impression
Lie (v. used with object):
7. to bring about or affect by lying (often used reflexively)
Not surprisingly, the commonality between the different usages all require a withholding of truth. Within the English language, there are a myriad of words that are either synonymous to or connote “lie” and they are as follows: untruth, falsehood, to fib (informal), story (informal), tall tale, white lie, intervention, fiction, deceive, cheat, betray, trick, dupe, swindle, double-cross, con, misinform, defraud, delude, etc… The word bank seems endless. If language is constantly evolving to accommodate the social changes [and the evolution] of society, then what is suggested about society and the people who make up that society when one encounters a word like “lies” and all the other words that are synonymous or connote “lies”? Do the different degrees of negative and/or positive connotations of “lies” suggest that within societies where English is the native language, that lying or some forms of withholding the truth is acceptable in some circumstances whereas in others it is not? If that is the case based on what attributes or characteristics can one deem lying acceptable and appropriate and who (or what) has the ultimate say?
Everyone engages in the “art of persuasion” but the degrees in which we chose to engage differ and vary depending on the individual and the given circumstances. But I wonder, where did the concept and engagement of lying first emerge – within society and of the individual? When does an individual first decide to lie, to withhold the truth? What and how did the individual feel after the first engagement and what drives the individual to further participate in lying from thereon after? Is the “art of persuasion” merely a facet of human nature, or is it a product of the social; or maybe it is a blend of the two in which circumstances and self-interests (and or protection) fuel our need to lie. Whichever the reason(s) may be, the “art of persuasion” seems to suggest that we as human beings are unable to cope with the truth 100% of the time.
According to http://www.dictionary.com, “truth is defined as the following:
1. the true or actual state of a matter
2. Conformity with fact or reality; verity
3. A verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like
4. Actuality or actual existence
5. An obvious or accepted fact; truism, platitude
6. Honesty; integrity; truthfulness
7. (Often initial capital letter) ideal or fundamental reality apart from and transcending perceived experience
8. Agreement with a standard or original
9. Accuracy, as of position or adjustment
10. Archaic; fidelity or constancy
If my presupposition is accurate, that one engages in the act of lying simply because one is unable to cope with the truth, then one must ask why, why is truth unbearable? Does telling the truth imply that the one receiving it is going to be harmed or that their self-understanding of whom they are (e.g. their identity), will be jeopardized? If these are some of the possible justifications for lying, then I pose yet another question, is not one’s self understanding about who they are constantly “under attack” in the sense that our being is ever-changing? The experiences in which we encounter are constantly reinforcing, challenging, and reshaping who we are, calling into question our beliefs and perceived morals (if there is even such a thing as morals – another discussion for another day). I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I feel stumped such that the only reason I can think of for one to lie is when one does not want to hurt or jeopardize oneself – in this sense lying is purely self-motivated, in other words, to lie is to be selfish. So I will leave this entry with one final question for contemplation, is there anything in life that we do that is not through self-motivation or selfishness?