Monday, March 12, 2007

Damned lies

As I see it, there are a lot of different types of lies.

  • Saying something that isn't true with the intent to deceive
  • Saying something that is true but with the intent to deceive
  • Dodging the question
  • Unintentionally saying something that isn't true but you thought it was
  • Saying something that isn't true but it used to be or you changed your mind
  • Saying something that isn't true but you said is in a joking or sarcastic manner

I think I've listed them in roughly decreasing order of severity. The first one is essentially the definition of a lie, and the same category in which I'd lump fraud. Just about everyone would agree that that constitutes a lie. The second one isn't necessarily a lie—it's true, after all—but it was said with malicious intent. I think that the most important characteristic for whether or not I consider something a lie or not is that element of intended deception. I don't count it as a lie if there was no deception involved, and the more deception, the worse the lie.

Those are just my opinions. People differ a lot on what they consider lies, and how bad they rate each lie. My mom considers sarcasm lying, for example, and I don't.

When I was younger I used to lie more than I should. I was smart about it; I wouldn't lie when I knew I'd get caught. There often wasn't even a reason; I just did it for the fun of doing something wrong. Most of my lies were of the "technically true but intentionally devious" variety, but there were certainly plenty outright lies too. As I got older, I began to respect honesty as a human quality, and after a while I decided that lying wasn't really all that fun anymore, so I stopped doing it.

I mean, not entirely... but for the most part. I even keep honest on this blog. I embellish from time to time, filling in gaps in stories for which I can't remember all of the precise details, but my intent here is not to write fiction. If I were writing fiction, I'd write about a more interesting protagonist, that's for sure. Right now the situation in which I lie the most is when someone has invited me to some kind of social activity and I don't feel like going; I usually find myself making up some kind of lame excuse. I think I do it to spare the person's feelings, but I'm invited to far more things than I'm interested in participating in, and I should just be honest there too.

One thing that's tough for me is to reconcile privacy and secrecy with honesty. Despite sharing my every thought with the tiny corner of the internet that is mildly interested in them, I'm still a very introverted person. Staying honest on this blog helps me deal with that, but still I value my privacy. A couple of my friends are downright cryptic in their interactions with me, which I see as an instance of the same thing—preserving both honesty and secrets by maintaining privacy. It's strange, and it annoys the hell out of me, but I do the same thing myself.

Currently listening: Dennis McCarthy—The Nexus / A Christmas Hug


Anonymous said...

Okay, so if I am understanding you correctly you feel that saying something that isn't true with the intent to deceive is hands down a lie. Now, I won't argue with you about that since according to the first definition of a lie is: a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood. However, do you just look at the lie - or do you look at the reason why that person might be saying what they are saying?

The biggest example that comes to the top of my head is if you make some remark about a person's sexuality. Now, let's say that this person was gay but is not out. When directly confronted with that question, they might tell a lie because they don't know how the person asking will take it. They are telling a falsehood, however, they are doing it to protect themselves. Sometimes you need to look at the reasons for the lie...not always the fact that a lie was told.

Another question I have for you is an omission of truth? Does that fall into your second category? In other words, they tell the truth, but not all the truth. Does that come into the privacy issue...or is that the truth with the intention to deceive?

I think the intent behind the lie holds a lot of weight. I think many people lie not because they think it is fun or they are trying to get away with something - I think it is more a case of we don't want to hurt another person's feelings...or expose a side of ourselves that others might not be aware of (you even say that this as the reason behind the kind of lie you tell the most right now!)

At least you admit that you yourself do the same thing that you are pointing out in others. It takes a lot of courage to say "I do the exact same thing."

Derrick Stolee said...

I found that lying only got me in worse trouble as a kid, so I have this horrible habit to always tell the truth. It actually gets me in trouble when I'm way too honest or forthcoming about certain things, especially when the girlfriend is involved.

Travis said...

Louise--I think that denying you're gay when you are is still a lie. It's false, and you are saying it in order to mislead someone. Now, "deceit" holds a certain evil connotation; one could perhaps argue that falsehoods in self-defense are not deceitful, and therefore not so bad. Certainly forgivable given the circumstances, I'd say... but probably still a lie.

Another example is a missionary. Sometimes they are spreading their faith in an area where it is illegal or otherwise highly unadvisable to do so, on penalty of death. By denying their faith to officials but proclaiming it amongst the populace hungry to hear it, they are lying, even while doing something that many people in their religion would consider very good.

I think an omission of truth is acceptable when the omission doesn't change the overall meaning of what you've said. Omission of truth in a way that twists your words to mean something else is not much better than an outright lie.


Anonymous said...

Okay - I was just wondering and trying to poke at you a little bit to see how you think.

I guess it is as you said that deceit does have a negative connotation and in many ways a lie also carries with it a negative connotation. You are just pointing out that a lie is a lie - nothing more nothing less. However, I think as humans we make judgement calls on a lot of things.

I hope that I am not one of those cryptic friends you are talking about. If I am, please just ask me to explain myself.

Travis said...

Are you kidding? I can't get you to shut up! ;)