Monday, April 7, 2008

Why lie?

Human nature has always been a mystery to me. I don’t understand why, for instance, some people feel the need to lie about their beliefs and to misrepresent themselves to the world even when they have nothing to lose by telling the truth. Little white lies are a different story. If, for instance, a teenage boy boasts about non-existent sexual exploits to avoid losing face in front of his peers, then his motivation is easy to identify. What about the pathological liar who constantly weaves a web of lies, pulling in all his loved ones and friends? When it becomes apparent that even he does not know where the truth ends and the lies begin, what is one to make of it? Should one judge him harshly or feel sorry for him?

I sometimes find myself wondering whether the truth is an illusion. Sometimes we cling tightly to certain beliefs about what we are and what matters to us, only for the whole pack of cards to come crashing down after a single traumatic event. Take, for example, the person who starts out with a dream of attending medical school and becoming a doctor. If that dream is held close to his heart, then his heart may break when he is not able to gain admission into medical school. Most people are able to accept such disappointments with time. They find a new dream to replace the old one, develop new insights about themselves and become new people. The process is certainly not painless, but given that a transformation has occurred, is it justifiable to say that such people were living an illusion beforehand? If the truth can vary at different stages in one’s life, then can one really speak of the truth or should one talk about appearances and illusions instead? Why then, should I be judgmental about someone who makes a habit of mixing truth and falsehood?

I have in mind the story of a young man who was determined to become a physician, but wasn’t able to get into medical school. Rather than trying again, or accepting the disappointment, he acted as if he had actually got a place in a prestigious medical school and pretended for five years that he was a medical student. His parents were unaware of this lie, as were his wife and children. As can be expected, as time went by, the lie became more elaborate. Ultimately, he was unable to keep it up. When his secret was about to be discovered, he took his life. I still don’t understand why acknowledging the truth in public was unacceptable to him. Quite clearly, he knew the difference between his truths and his falsehoods- he was aware that he there were consequences tied to his falsehoods.

Another young man pursued a relationship with his girlfriend for years, and they eventually got engaged. One month before their wedding day, he vanished without an explanation. It eventually turned out that he had no intention of marrying the woman, and in fact, was engaged to three other women the whole time. Time would reveal that the woman had always felt shortchanged and sensed that he didn’t love her, but had remained in the relationship because she was scared of the alternative. It would also turn out that the man had played along because he enjoyed the sense of power that the game gave him. Both were obviously aware of the lie, but held on to it for whatever reason.

After pondering these different tales, I’m still at a loss. Why do people hold tightly onto the false comfort of illusions? How can you enjoy an experience that you know is not real? How can you bask in praise that you know is not deserved? Isn’t it actually easier, in the long run, to be true to oneself and to be ordinary than it is to rise to the heavens and then come crashing to the earth without ceremony?

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This work is licensed to Rose Kahendi under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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