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Sunday, 5 February 2012

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To lead a life of lies

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave / When first we practise to deceive!” - Sir Walter Scott

I am not smart enough to lie. But I do know that, like what Joseph Goebbels said, and what our politicians say, if you make the lie big, make it simple, and keep saying it, eventually people will believe it.

That is why those in possession of absolute power cannot only prophesy and make their prophecies come true, but also lie and make their lies come true.

On principle, I would never lie; but occasionally I might, and may have, willfully participated in a campaign of misinformation. After all, the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on, and that applies to lies as well. In fact, a truth told with bad intentions beats all the lies you can invent; and beware, some liars have the habit of, every now and then, telling the truth.

However, what upsets me most is not that someone lied to me – it is for him to come to terms with his soul - but that, from then, I will never be able to believe him.

Intentionally

What is a lie? A lie is to hold something, intentionally, which one knows is not the whole truth, and to be the whole truth.

There are of course many forms of lies.

As defined by Sartre, “bad faith” is a form of lying to oneself. Then there is the big lie: A lie that attempts to trick the victim into believing something major that may be at variance with, some information the victim already possesses, or their common sense.

As I said earlier, when the lie is of sufficient magnitude, it may succeed due to the victim's reluctance to believe that an untruth on such a grand scale would indeed be concocted. Bluffing is also a form of lie. To bluff is to pretend to have a capability or intention one does not actually possess.

Bluffing is an act of deception, but rarely believed as immoral. For instance, a gambler who deceives other players into thinking he has different cards to those he really holds, is not seen as a liar. In these situations, deception is acceptable, and commonly accepted as a tactic.

There are so many forms of lies: big and small; harmful and harmless; worthy and not worthy; noble and inglorious; white and black, that it would be impossible to classify all of it in this given space.

Aristotle believed no general rule on lying was possible. For he who advocates lying, can never be believed or trusted. The philosophers St. Augustine, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant, condemned all lying. Each of these philosophers gave several arguments against lying, all compatible with each other.

Among the more important arguments: lying is a perversion of the natural faculty of speech, the natural end of which is to communicate the thoughts of the speaker.

When one lies, one undermines trust in society.

Outcomes

Meanwhile, there are utilitarian philosophers who have supported lies - lies that achieve good outcomes, such as white lies. In his 2008 book How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, Iain King suggested a credible rule on lying was possible, and defined it as: “Deceive only if you can change behaviour in a way worth more than the trust you would lose, were the deception discovered”. Friedrich Nietzsche, on the other hand, had suggested that those who refrain from lying do so only because of the difficulty involved in maintaining the lie.

This is consistent with his general philosophy that divides people according to strength and ability; thus, some people tell the truth only out of weakness.

What causes people to lie, to live a life that is a lie? Is it because they are pretending to be - either to themselves or to other people - someone who they are not and never likely to be? Perhaps it is the other person’s reactions to us, which make us to lie. All human beings want and expect to feel accepted and loved.

The fear of not receiving acceptance and love, because of the belief of having done something inappropriate which may be condemned or not approved of, may be the reason some resort to lies. The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves. We live in denial of what we do, even what we think.

We do this because we are afraid. We fear we will not find love, and when we find it, we fear we will lose it. We fear that if we do not have love, we will be unhappy.

Psychologists tell us that we lie because we are fearful of the consequences of telling the truth. Guilt bears a heavy burden on those who live into it, so people lie to avoid looking stupid, or incompetent, or so that someone will not get angry at them. There are other reasons why people lie. People are afraid of being ostracised, or punished.

Embarrassed

It may also be because they may feel embarrassed, lose face, status, or they might not get what they want. Many liars lie to manipulate people. Liars think they are protecting themselves, and or gaining something by lying. But, that kind of payoff obliterates the meagre benefits derived through lies, and it can be devastating to one’s health and happiness.

It takes a lot more effort to tell a lie than to tell the truth. To be a believable liar, you have to live into the lie. This often means believing in the lie yourself. Deluding yourself is stressful work because it is a lot easier to remember the truth than it is to remember details of a lie.

If you are questioned about the situation that led to the lie, you have to stick with it even if someone challenges your lie with proof that you are lying. It takes a smooth operator to gloss over every challenge, and it takes a sharp memory to defend every lie with conviction. Even the most convincing liar constantly worries that his or her lies may be exposed. The anxiety such worry creates is cause for ulcers, headaches, sleepless nights, and paranoia.

Our nervous systems and our immune systems are inter-connected. Hence, it makes sense that our brain and our emotions can send out messages that affect our health.

To put it simply, our body responds to the way we think. When we think happy thoughts, our bodies produce hormones that make us feel good.

Those chemicals also contribute to a stronger, healthier immune system. Conversely, when we are worried, anxious, or generally stressed out; our bodies produce different kinds of hormones which increase our blood sugar and suppresses the immune system. Modern doctors, as well as holistic practitioners, agree that a person who lies continuously will eventually face anxiety, depression, physical ailments, and even psychological illness.

Hence, if one has lived a life of lies, I would recommend that it is never too late to change.

It is sure to bring health, happiness, and peace of mind.

See you this day next week. Until then, keep thinking; keep laughing. Life is mostly about these two activities.

For views, reviews, encomiums, and brickbats: t_arjuna@yahoo.com

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