All in the lying game

All in the lying game


All in the lying game

It’s a human weakness, as old as civilisation itself, to which most of us succumb frequently. Thanks to lying, it’s so easy to wriggle out of a sticky situation that we seldom have any qualms about it. So much so that it’s now a polished art, perfected by constant use, and practised without compunction.

Confident that we can get away with it, we are tempted to lie repeatedly. It’s no doubt unethical, but lying is here to stay. Given its undoubted usefulness in bailing one out of trouble, it comes to many as naturally as breathing. In fact, for some, lying has become what could be termed a common survival strategy.

Employees in need of leave are often at their inventive best to convince their hard-boiled bosses to relent — sometimes even going to the extent of ‘bumping off’ a fictitious uncle or aunt. A colleague who resorted to this falsehood once too often got a sharp rebuke from his boss who fumed, “Will you ever run out of relatives who are waiting to kick the bucket?” This trickster used to arrange for telegrams to be sent to him about the ‘death’ of a relative.

There’s also the classic yarn about the young employee who sought a day’s leave to attend his grandfather’s funeral. On his return, his boss asked him cryptically, “Do you believe in life after death?” Bewildered, the employee said he did. “Just as well,” continued the boss, adding, “After you left yesterday, your grandfather telephoned you.”

Sometimes we lie merely to impress others. As American wit Wilson Mizner once observed, “I know of no sentence that can induce such immediate and brazen lying as the one that begins with ‘Have you read...?’”   And, of course, anglers out for sport are known for their white lies — their tales of ‘the whopper that got away’ are many, and they often catch far more fish from a stream than ever were in it. Writer Austin O’Malley once castigated such people thus: “Those who think it permissible to tell white lies soon grow colour-blind.”

Then there are many who subscribe to the dubious theory that ‘a lie in time saves nine’. Countering this attempt to vindicate lying, it’s equally true that a lie, however petty, begets more lies unavoidably, justifying Mark Twain’s apt observation, “One of the striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.” Once unleashed, untruths do have a knack of multiplying, and spiralling out of control.

Of course, much more has been said about lying, both profound and flippant. “With a man, a lie is a last resort,” said humorist Gelett Burgess, adding, “With a woman, it’s first aid.” Poet John Gay, however, disagreed. “Men are born to lie,” he asserted, “and women to believe them.” “Telling lies is a fault in a boy,” commented humorist Helen Rowland, “an art in a lover, an accomplishment in a bachelor, and second nature in a married woman.” Then, a wit has aptly defined diplomacy as “Lying in state,” while according to another, “Politeness is one half good nature and the other half good lying.”

Perhaps George Bernard Shaw has the last word in this context. “The liar’s punishment,” he once remarked perspicaciously, “is not in the least that he’s not believed, but that he can’t believe anyone else.” On the other hand, isn’t it human nature to brand someone a despicable liar when he reveals an unpleasant truth about us?