Thanks to Josie of ‘Two Shoes Tuesday’ who hosts this writing meme. Her prompts this week are ‘White’ or ‘Lies’. Participants may choose one or other or both of the prompt words.
Little White Lies
Are you a liar? Do you tell fibs or whoppers? Are you an inveterate liar, involved in big business where lies are par for the course? After all, the ends justify the means and profit is king and one must think of the investors and their pensions - and one’s own bonus. Got to keep the little woman (or man, mustn’t be sexist and isn’t the glass ceiling a thing of the past now?) and the little dependants happy in their cosy designer nests and their independent educational establishments where money buys privilege and those oh-so-important contacts, and with their private health schemes where queues can be jumped and, with luck, a few years added to the allotted three score and ten. Such lies, or circumlocutions of the truth, are necessary to keep the wheels turning and the wealthy smiling as riches are accrued and taxes are avoided – it’s legal to avoid tax, not so to evade it. (Any thesaurus will show that these two words are interchangeable and a common synonym for each is dodge.)
No, we do not lie, not on that scale, but we may tell ‘little white lies’ – you know, the sort we all tell to avoid embarrassment or pain, to ourselves or others. ‘You look wonderful,’ we may say to someone who is obviously ill or overweight or under stress. ‘I’m fine,’ we lie to those who inquire after our health as we excuse our delay in seeking medical intervention because we were too busy looking after everyone else – nothing to do with a slight hint of martyrdom, of course. ‘Of course I’m not angry, I’m disappointed,’ we claim through ferociously gritted teeth as exams are failed, a colleague is promoted in our stead, money is overspent into debt, confessions are made of infidelity.
Sometimes we excuse our little white lies as kindness and thus some may grow up in the mistaken belief that their mispronunciation is ‘cute’ when speech therapy might have excused them from outsiders wondering why they still say ‘troof’ for ‘truth’ or ‘pray’ for ‘play’. Sometimes, oftentimes I think, we lie to ourselves. ‘It was a perfect marriage,’ says the bereaved widower, conveniently forgetting the acrimonious arguments or everyday irritations or the sidestep into adultery. ‘I don’t drink much,’ says the lonely businesswoman, justifying the bottle of gin she drinks every day or the too-frequent visits to the local bar where happy hour extends into near-oblivion. ‘He’s forceful, he knows his own mind,’ says the mother of the spoilt boy-adult who tramples everyone in his quest to have his whims and wishes fulfilled. ‘It’s just puppy fat, he’s got big bones,’ says the protective older sister of her little brother as he pants, struggling to lumber after his playmates.
Should we ever lie and if so, when? If telling the truth would lead to someone’s torture or death, as in war-time espionage operations, it is clear that a lie or lies must be told and upheld. If withholding the truth, or at least part of it, defends a country’s security procedures, particularly where terrorist threats are concerned, then surely most citizens would agree that secrecy must be maintained. At a more personal level, the complete truth should be tailored to take account of a vulnerable person’s state of mind at a time of considerable pressure. A bereaved parent does not need immediately to hear that her dead child was a bully. A son grieving for his father should be spared the knowledge that his behaviour was morally reprehensible. Truth will out eventually but life is not a court of law where the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth should be uttered.