Life comes a full circle. In May, this newsletter will complete a year. I wrote the first of these on a rainy day in Bangalore, and as I’m writing this edition April showers have started again. So I’ve decided to make a small format change — from this edition onwards, I will end these emails by leaving a few links to reading, watching, listening, and making at the end.
Through the early years of being groomed, school and home both distinctly lay down the importance of honesty. Everybody tells you how good and virtuous it is — a tactic that I can testify works because I experience guilt every time I lie.
We’re told that the act of telling the truth has stamps of approval from every messiah. It is constant education that truth-telling can get difficult, but it is ultimately the only tool for an emotionally rich life. And yet, in spite of this, I have found myself to be an excellent and frequent liar.
I’ve lied about liking the icing at expensive bakeries. I’ve lied about forgetting to do homework. I’ve said I can’t attend birthdays because I’m unwell when I really just wanted to hang out with other people. I have in cafes and restaurants casually declared ice cream on waffles makes it better, even though I think it’s disgusting. There are also the bigger ones — I’ve lied about being comfortable when I was clearly uncomfortable, about being fine when I obviously wasn’t.
Lies are told out for multiple reasons. We tell them out of fear, out of disdain for the truth, or when we’re in denial. There are also some lies that we tell out of compassion. We don’t want to hurt our friends, parents, or anyone — so we lie about liking their cooking, we don’t question their dismissive habits, we tolerate their insensitivity. With all the importance given to truth, somewhere down the line we still managed to learn that in order to sustain relationships, some level of lying and deceit is necessary. Or at least I did.
Pamela Mayer says, “Lying is complex. It’s woven into the fabric of our daily and our business lives. We’re deeply ambivalent about the truth. We parse it out on an as-needed basis, sometimes for very good reasons, other times just because we don’t understand the gaps in our lives… We’re against lying, but we’re covertly for it in ways that our society has sanctioned for centuries and centuries and centuries. It’s as old as breathing. It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our history. Think Dante, Shakespeare, the Bible, News of the World.”
I’m personally obsessed with the value in the old phrase — lies beget other lies. They require manipulative work. Lying according to neuroscientist Sam Harris, “is to erect a boundary between the truth we are living and the perception others have of us. The temptation to do this is often born of an understanding that others will disapprove of our behavior. Often, there are good reasons why they would.”
Fahad Fassil in a still from the Malayalam movie Joji — a masterclass on how characters do ill-advised things out of fear. The film is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
So let’s consider this:
If I’m the subject who has lied and participated in an act of deceit, then what am I supposed to do from here? How am I supposed to revive myself morally from the cycle of lying? The obvious answer is to begin course correction — identify the victims of your deceit, and make amends. Pick up the phone, make a call. Apologise to people for believing the rumors about them. Tell them I’m sorry for putting them on a pedestal. Tell them that I think they are insensitive. Tell them how in my head I used every piece of information about them to put them above or below me. Tell them in clear and concise words that my brain was preoccupied by measuring them with scales based on lies manufactured by various institutions that I claim to be against.
It’s an easy fix, I told myself.
Until one day in the bathroom while I trimmed my hair with an orange pair of scissors I looked into the mirror and silently and slowly told myself: what a load of bullshit. I don’t actually feel remorse for anyone, if I’ve wronged them they’ve wronged me too. We’ve all lied and been lied to at some point. Telling them won’t take the weight off.
Tracing my footprints paints a tangential picture. On my list of people who I’ve wronged the topmost and worst-affected person of this catastrophic chain of deceit I was running is no one but me. If I created pedestals based on lies for people, it meant that I was also conveniently placing myself below them. If I was preoccupied with measuring scales, I was weighing myself on them too. Weirdly enough, every messiah and school only articulated the importance of honesty and left no notes on how to engage in truth-telling in a world that rewards lying.
The act of participating in a lie, and why we choose to do it is complex. But the lie itself is placed to make life simpler. To rescue us from the truth — that is always layered. Our truth involves the lies we have told ourselves about beauty, love, and society. Our truth involves our privilege and the selected histories we’ve been fed. Most people very often end up feeling hurt, dismissed and pained by the word. As Sam Harris says — “Lying is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood.” And maybe we lie because we’re still on the hunt for narratives and people that are willing to hold our messy, multiple, contradictory truths.
A few gifts:
An academic essay by Roxani Krystalli on narratives, violence, and feminist dilemmas.
Why We Lie to Ourselves by The School of Life.
Sam Harris on lying.
This is a wonderful song.
Khalil Girban’s poem On Friendship.
Rilke’s poem The Rose Window.
Thank you for reading.
Six Impossible Things is a monthly newsletter about art, books, reading, and feelings. You may sign up if you want it delivered to your inbox. You can also come to say hi to me on Instagram @a_catinthesink