Is it ever okay to lie?

Does Father Christmas exist? Does Boris Johnson exist?

This week the issue on every front page has been the issue of the staff at Number 10 having jolly Christmas parties while at the same time telling the rest of the world that they cannot. The repeated word is liar and lying. If you have ever had to deal with a liar you may well have a very strong point of view about it. 

The word liar and lies seems to be a moveable feast that can change as and when we need them to. Is it ever okay to lie?

There are 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 varnished reality to help another person. Perhaps you child has just failed at an exam, sports event or a performance and we play down the fact that they have spectacularly failed. We 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 the 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 Christmas Party candle just being the latest. The classic has been over the testing and the effects of testing. Are the figures that we are given a convenient version of the truth that support the new policies? Or do they have a basis in fact?  Politics is full of what Winston Churchill referred to ‘lies, damn lies and statistics. He also reprimanded by the speaker for calling an MP a liar. He apologies and and changed the wording from liar to a ‘terminological inexactitude’. I have known many people who commit terminological inexactitude who are otherwise known as ‘liars.’

Lying moves from the white lies, 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 if the nice lie to avoid hurting other peoples feelings or making a situation worse. I am always amazed how at a funeral the person in the box takes on the status of a saint and everyone says nice things about them when we all know the hard truth about what they were really like in life.

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. It is these lies that I see being played out in current politics. The nonsense that is spoken, on air, by our politicians to justify and rationalise their mistakes, ignorance or lack of action is breath taking. For some the lies fall so easily from their tongues that they appear to pathological liars, someone who lies compulsively. 

Those with psychiatric or psychological disorders can often be pathological truth spreaders, they can’t hold it back. If someone suffering with Tourettes, who is disinhibited, may not be able to stop telling you that you have 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? Interesting! 

It would seem that lies can kindness, as in white lies to proceed others. They can be self protective and defensive, often when we have been caught out. I see this a lot when I do court work. They may be self seeking lies as in the classic sales person who will you tell you anything that you want to hear to get a sale. Or they can be the manipulative power based lies found in psychopaths and, sadly many politicians, who will say and do what ever is required to get what they want to hold on to power.

We see this all around the world in politics. If we look at Myanmar (Burma) and the treatment of Aung San Sun Kyi by the mew military rulers. It is obvious to the meanest of intelligence that they will tell any lies and make up any stories to keep her in prison. This is not unique there are examples everywhere.

Think of 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 is true 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 to 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 they maybe even leading us as our managers and politicians. 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 discerning

Sean x

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