A truth that’s told with bad intent Beats all the lies you can invent.
- William Blake.
Under what circumstances is it justified to lie? Is the truth the ultimate moral imperative or should we be willing to tell lies? There are some situations, where a higher purpose can be served by not telling the truth. However, these cases are rare. In practice, it is often too easy to justify a lie, when we are only really trying to serve our own interests. These are some of the issues about lying and telling the truth.
Truth and Common Sense Wisdom
If our mother prepares a pie that is disappointing, we should not feel a moral compulsion to tell her exactly what we feel. In these cases we can use our wisdom and avoid telling an unnecessary truth. We don’t have to lie, but, nor do we have to make her aware of shortcomings and thus hurt her feelings. If somebody gets joy from cooking, why do we have to spoil that by zealously stating the truth? This does not mean we have to give false praise and flattery. But, it is good to take a diplomatic approach; being a bad cook is hardly a crime. Hurting someone’s feeling is unnecessary. Similarly if someone’s dress sense is ‘unique’ don’t feel obliged to state exactly what is in on your mind.
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
- Emily Dickinson
BTW: It is difficult to make rules, we have to use our inner wisdom for this kind of thing. My mother is a very good cook, but, I enjoy giving her both criticism and praise; in a way she appreciates the honesty (I hope). It depends on the person; some are more sensitive than others.
There are times when we get into trouble and instinctively we seek to lie to avoid damage to our personal standing. However, if we are honest we save ourselves getting into complicated situations where we need to keep lying to maintain a false pretence. Usually it is better to tell the truth, admit mistakes and move on. It makes life simpler, there is also great humility in admitting mistakes; it is this quality that people will appreciate and value.
Do You Trust People?
We trust some people because they develop a reputation for telling the truth. If we get into the habit of telling lies, then when we want to tell the truth it will be disbelieved. At times telling the truth may be difficult and does not seem the most expedient short term solution. But, a genuinely honest person will inevitably become treasured over time.
What are Your Motivations for Lying?
If you feel compelled to lie, what are your motivations for doing so? If you lie to protect your self interests, if you lie to avoid unpleasant reactions from others – you should be very suspicious. If you lie to avoid unnecessary suffering to others; if your motivation is genuinely selfless then this may, in some circumstances, be justified. However, we have to be careful, sometimes we feel we are acting charitably towards others when really we are more concerned with our own standing. Unfortunately, the mind is very good at justifying bad actions such as lying; and the more we lie the easier it becomes.
Relative Truth and the Ultimate Truth.
If you are hiding refugees from the police in a military dictatorship, you would not tell the truth about their whereabouts. You may even tell an outright lie to protect innocent people. Instinctively this shows that the exact truth is not the only thing to consider. Life is not about a simple set of rules, we have to be adaptable; human morality has its limitations – every rule admits of exception. It is not always advisable to speak the truth of this world. However, others suggest there is a truth that is beyond the limitations of this world. This ultimate Truth is about the essence of existence. The ultimate truth is the essence of our true self, our higher consciousness; it is this Truth that can never be compromised. This ultimate truth cannot be expressed in words, the important thing is being true to the highest ideals and the illumined consciousness of the divine.
As the Upanishads say:
Satyam eva jayate.
Truth alone triumphs.
Photo by Unmesh Swanson, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries