Some time ago a mentor of mine taught me a big lesson. He was always very keen on to positively influence people and how he could help his mentees develop for the better. One day, as part of his voluntary mentorship to guide a troubled boy like me, he gave me his biggest advice, as he described it, for life. He said, ‘’If you can follow this advice your life would become much easier and you will be able to avoid many obstacles and misfortune which may strike otherwise.’’
‘’What it is it brother?’’, I responded curiously. I thought it sounded like a good deal. He paused intentionally to create the momentum, and to get me pay more attention. He then said, ‘’Think of a date from when you will stop LYING altogether. Take an oath to not tell a single LIE from that day onwards.’’
He was an honourable man with a good reputation in society. I was concerned about making a promise straight away. I really would have liked to keep a promise to him, but replied, ‘’Can I have some time to think about it?’’.
Returning home, I started thinking about many of the times I lied and many lies I hear around me every day. From politicians to doctors and businessman to lovers, who doesn't resort to lies now and then? I started reflecting on the verb 'lie' and how it affects our lives. In fact, I realised my mentor wanted to give me a very fundamental tool that would make my life harder and also happier. Besides, don’t we achieve ultimate happiness through hardship? New research from the University of Notre Dame shows that when people managed to reduce their lies in given weeks across a 10-week study, they reported significantly improved physical and mental health in those same weeks.
I did fix a deadline and I almost gave up lying completely. Have I? It is so important to confront ourselves. I do that a lot. I was telling my mum about lying the other day and I classified it into two broad categories and then further into subcategories. Today, I will explore the first broad category ‘Soft Lies’.
Soft lies are the types of lies that help people or are at least not intended to hurt anyone. At times this is actually a ‘good lie’ even I would say philosophers should classify it as a ‘virtue’. For example, when you are hiding someone in your house and you are lying to the people who are chasing to kill or harm him. This even requires ‘courage’ and real liars would not lie at this time because they naturally lack courage and would give up the man for their own safety. I would like to lie like this. Actually, the absence of truth is not lie by default. My observation has categorised SOFT lies into three sub-categories.
These are the everyday lies that people like you and I utter. Some people can remain technically truthful and humble but in our society (Bangladeshi), it is hard and people often have to resort to soft lies. For example, saying you have eaten when your mother-in-law cooked something that you would rather not eat.
Another example is when you want to save someone from spending money on you or giving you an expensive gift. Here you may lie by saying you have these things if you don’t want to trouble someone and save them from doing something for you.
Lies of Ignorance
There are people who lie just for the sake of an argument and want to win. Mostly in informal conversations and arguments they would say and exaggerate things without knowing its accuracy and just to defend themselves they lie even further. Their ignorance makes them lie and they keep on defending it with more lies. Some do it on a pathetic level and some on a very innocent level. If we look for examples, we will see many friends and family who suffer from this ignorance.
For example, one of my friends while defending Dr Zafar Iqbal’s 'greatness' claimed he is ‘world renowned scientist’. My plea to reconsider why Mr Iqbal can be regarded as a ‘world renowned’ scientist brought me an answer of Mr Iqbal being an owner of a patent and it is a big deal in this field.
You would think Mr Iqbal is responsible for a patent that has inspired some groundbreaking scientific discovery. When people think of patents what usually comes to mind are major scientific breakthroughs such as Edison’s first electric lamp, or large corporations investing in research and development. But, in fact, most patents aren't granted for groundbreaking scientific breakthroughs but rather for inventions that make improvements to existing inventions. For example, the second or third generation of a product or a process that works in a more cost-effective or efficient manner.
But in reality, in 2012 alone, Erickson (the company Mr Iqbal worked for) has made 1197 applications to register patents. Anyway, let us not allow Mr Zafar Iqbal to distract us from the main topic. My point is my friend’s ignorance or blind loyalty to Mr Iqbal’s fame has made him an ignorant liar.
This is when you are forced by a situation to lie. This could be to compete with a liar when you don’t have any option but to lie. A big example I can think of is a fight I got involved during my teenage years. I was bullied one morning by a boy in the neighbourhood and in the evening I retaliated with the help of my friends and it became physical. This bully cried all the way home earning me immense fame and a ‘to be feared’ image amongst neighbourhood.
Following this, community judges sat together to resolve the conflict from escalating further on both political and patron levels. These judges were made up of the bully’s father and my father as well as other elderly members of the neighbourhood. In the trial (bichar) the bully lied, giving an untrue account of the incident and hiding completely that he insulted me that morning. I was immediately inspired by people next to me to lie and make up an even more serious story to convince the community judges. So can I say I had to lie in response to a lie in order to uphold what is ‘right’ and the truth?
Soft lies also occur with people who suffer the sudden economic decline in society and struggle to maintain living standards. For example, a rich man suddenly having lost his wealth goes to the office using public transport, may lie to people who may ask him where his car is. He could reply it is in the garage, broken down, etc. People’s social condition and certain self-perceived standards can compel them to make soft lies.
I will talk about ‘Hard Lies’ in my next post. Stay Tuned.