Is a Liar a Liar?

This week I posted this question on Facebook ‘If a liar believes what they say are they lying?’and got some very interesting responses. If you have ever had to deal with a liar you may well have a very strong point of view. The word ‘liar’ is an interesting one.

We have what are known as ‘little white lies’ when we avoid telling somebody something that we know might hurt them or distress them. Most of us, at some point, will have varied reality to help another person. Perhaps you child has just failed at an exam, sports event or a performance and so we may play it down and tell them how wonderful they have been. In these cases we bend the truth a little to make the other person feel better.

Only we can decide if our feedback to others is based in honesty or a doctored version of the truth that verges on being a lie.

Many people will use a version of the truth to further their cause. We see this everyday in politics. Currently with Covid we have examples of this everyday. The classic has been over the testing, when we later discover that figures were a convenient version of the truth so that the test figure included all those test that had been sent out not those that had been completed and a swob of a persons nose and mouth counts as two tests, and so on. Politics is full of what Winston Churchill referred to as ‘lies, damn lies and statistics. He was also reprimanded by the speaker for calling an MP a liar. He apologised and changed the wording from liar to a ‘terminological inexactitude’. I have known many people who have been otherwise known as liars.

Lying moves from these, what I might call good lies, to those that are deliberately and directly negative bad lies. These may be used to con you out of your money, get you into bed, or make you do something that you never intended or wanted to do. If I tell you a lie about a mutual friend telling you that they had said bad things about you or had done bad things to you it could understandably wreck your relationship with them. I have seen these types of things happen in the workplace when someone is attempting to get promotion and they lie and stand on their colleagues emotionally to achieve what they want.

So, here we have two distinctions in lying. The first is if the lie is to avoid hurting other peoples feelings or making a situation worse. This can happen at a funeral when the person in the box takes on the status of a saint and everyone says nice things about them when this may differ from how we knew them in life, who would it serve to “tell our truth”

Then we have the lies that are designed for the liar to get some advantage which could be money, position, status, power and so on.

Then we get into the world of psychology and mental health. A pathological liar is someone who lies compulsively. This is the result of an inner illness, syndrome, condition or even physical damage.

If someone suffering with Tourettes, who is disinhibited, may not be able to stop telling you that you have a massive big nose. In a sense they are being completely honest. The person who does not have Tourettes and is not disinhibited may also see that you have a massive big nose but does not say anything. Does that make them a liar?

Many psychiatric disorders can lead to someone always telling the truth, say what you see, to the point of offensiveness, others may appear to manufacture lies. Often these lies are not manufactured they are simply that person’s interpretation of events.

Anyone who has collected witness statements will tell you that a group of people experiencing the same events will tell different stories. None of them are lying it is just that they see the world from different points of view and are each telling their own truth they are not lying. When I was child and a Nun told me that smoking was a good thing and it helped distressed men relax and calm down she was not thinking of cancer or COPD.

If the engineers who put the cladding on high rise buildings, that we now know is flammable, if they did not know it was a fire risk they were acting honestly and not involved in any lies. Could we say the same for the manufacturer and the safety officers?

When a couple are getting divorced would we say that they were lying when they made promises to each other in the marriage ceremony  – until death do us part?

It would seem to me that unless you are being reckless and attempting to outwit others by not telling them the truth to take advantage of them, then the moving sands of time can change the way that we see the world. All we can do is to be honest to ourself in the present moment. Later we may realise that what we thought or believed was the truth was in fact a lie or not true. We then have a choice as what we can put right or not.

My hope is that most people are fairly straight and would seek to tell the truth. I do accept that there will always be the purveyors of terminological inexactitudes around us and maybe even leading us. Our job is to be aware enough to know the difference between the good lies, the bad lies, the psychiatric disorders and the truth. Though in the end my truth will simply be the way that I see it at that time.

Hey ho, aren’t human beings complicated?

Take care and be discerning

Sean x

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