Not ashamed to admit to being a middle-of-the-roader. Strayed into journalism from genetics; acquired a fascination for page design, nitpicking and spell checking.

Vanitha Srinivasan

Is it wrong to tell lies...

| Updated on May 17, 2013

Grant Wood; "Parson Weems' Fable"; 1939; oil on canvas; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; 1970.43

It seems so on the face of it. The most famous story about George Washington as a child was his refusal to tell a lie. In this apocryphal anecdote, the young Washington cuts down an English Cherry Tree fondly planted by his father, with his newly acquired hatchet with which he was cutting every shrub or tree in sight. When his father discovered the sorry state of his cherry tree, he wanted to know who did it. Despite knowing what was in store for him by way of admonition and punishment, the lad said," I can't tell a lie, Pa; You know, I can't tell a lie, I did cut it with my hatchet".

As against this, we read recently that the Additional Solicitor-General, one of the highest law officers of the country, lied to the Supreme Court that he had not seen the CBI status report, while, indeed, he had seen it along with others. However, the law officer could not continue in the job living with the lie.

But, strictly speaking, is it possible to live life telling lies and deceiving people without harming one’s own psyche? Yes and no. Since there are lots of reasons, both serious and innocuous, for telling lies. Some are intended to cheat and others are uttered as ruses to save the situation. We tell lies to exaggerate our accomplishments. We also tell lies to cover up wrongful acts. We peddle products by misleading buyers. Quite often, like the neighbourhood plumber who always promises to come “tomorrow”, we too make promises which we are aware we are not going to keep. Social lies are told sometimes even to our friends and family members to give them the solace and comfort when they are suffering from some ailment, even when we know that the prognosis is not favourable.

We have been both receivers of communication which contain lies and we have also spoken lies. When we lie, we run the risk of losing the trust of the receiver. This must have happened to many of us. I have been postponing buying a present for my friend’s anniversary for some reason or the other. Suddenly, the day arrives, I rummage the closet and the chest of drawers, get some suitable present, gift wrap it and take it. While giving, I gush with warm affection and gleefully tell her how I found just the right thing for her in the high street. My friend cannot wait to open the present and as she is at it, suddenly my husband who has not taken part in this present selection business squeaks up from the rear and says, “I think you also have a similar one in your wardrobe, isn’t it dear?” Next time onwards, my friend isn’t going to be exactly thrilled when I gift her something. Not only that, word will go round ruining my reputation. Worse than that, my friend will resolve to return the compliment!!

Published on May 17, 2013

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