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In Defense of Deceit

by Arthur Carey


Arthur is a former newspaper reporter and journalism instructor who lives in the San Francisco Bay area. He is a member of the California Writers Club. His fiction has appeared in print and Internet publications, including Funny Times, Future Mysteries Anthology Magazine, Writers’ Journal, Golden Visions Magazine and Still Crazy. He is the author of “The Gender War,” a humor novel.

I’m not going to lie to you. What I’m about to say isn’t the truth, the whole
truth and nothing but the truth. Does that matter? Of course not. Truth is overrated
anyway. Forget those fables about the virtue of veracity. Diogenes wasn’t trying to
find an honest man when he carried a lantern through the streets of Athens. It was
a stunt, and Diogenes was just another hustler masquerading as an upright citizen.

We all lie and we do a lot of it. Teachers exaggerate how bright their
students are at parent-teacher conferences. Motorists roll through stop signs and
then swear to traffic cops that they came to a complete stop. Sinners develop
convenient memory lapses during confession, lying by omission.

Why lie? Lots of reasons. We lie to avoid embarrassment. We lie to avoid
criticism. We lie to appear modest about success and to hide failure. We lie to
cover up ignorance, dishonesty, carelessness, parsimony, prejudice and
indifference to others less fortunate. Sometimes we lie out of simple laziness. Ever
say you’ve got a “prior engagement” to avoid going somewhere so you can stay
home and veg in front of the TV?

 Not convinced? Uncle Sam wouldn’t need the Internal Revenue Service to
audit tax returns if people didn’t overstate expenses and understate income. The
next time you’re in the express lane at a supermarket notice how many shoppers
have more than 15 items. Oh, and do you give yourself the benefit of the doubt
when a doctor asks how much you drink and smoke?

Oh, none of that applies to you? No? Did you ever pretend to admire a
friend’s latest fashion disaster, or unbecoming hairstyle or children’s
 boring accomplishments? I thought so. 

But at least we’re not hypocrites. We lie to ourselves, too. Favorite
falsehoods: vowing to stick to yet another New Year’s diet, to get more exercise,
and to read some mind-expanding books. How about eating more vegetables and
fruit and less red meat? Add those to the list of self-delusion. And don’t kid yourself
this is the year you’re finally going to volunteer for community service and do
something ennobling like delivering meals to elderly shut-ins or ladling out soup at a
 homeless shelter.

 Ah…starting to feel remorseful? Don’t. In the end, people lie because they
have to lie. Lies are the social grease that lets us to glide through daily life without
bumping our noses on the sharp edge of reality and paying for it. At least we try to
minimize dishonesty by drawing distinctions of degree. Think half-truths. Or we
offer up minor lies and give them a color: white. If needed, there’s an all-purpose,
evergreen rationalization: everybody else does it. (Don’t try that with the I.R.S.)

Sometimes we lie to avoid hurting the feelings of others. That’s acceptable,
 isn’t it? No? Are you willing to pay the price for total honesty? Fine. Then tell your
wife or girlfriend that last year’s bathing suit fits her about as well as the gym shorts
you wore in 10th grade. Or tell your husband or boyfriend that going without
shaving as a fashion statement is attractive only in 20-something male models. No,
 sometimes it’s better to put a damper on being candid.

Society enrolls us in the liar’s club at birth. If lying isn’t in our DNA, we
learn to do it at an early age. A statue should be erected to honor the first kid who
told a teacher “the dog ate my homework.” Just don’t get caught. It’s risky to lie to
a cop, or on the witness stand, or anywhere someone with a cell phone camera
can record your lie and post it on YouTube. Be especially careful with written
memos and e-mail because they can have a half-life like radioactive waste.

Let’s face it. Deceit, carefully considered and employed, is a requirement
for getting along in life. But first you have to free yourself of scruples about using it.
Never mind what your mother said about being truthful. She probably said you were
handsome or pretty. Look in the mirror.

It’s okay to lie. Take that as gospel. I would never mislead you about
anything that important. Honest.

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