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Is Lying Really That Bad?

Lies are the garment that covers and conceals unsaid thoughts, causing a cognitive dissonance between an ingrained belief and that which is physically voiced. Be it a casual remark of how handsome you look, a subtle attempt to hide your whereabouts, or a generic statement of compliance in a conversation, lying is unethical, yet we all are at various stages of mastery when it comes to this tactic. Lying is pleasurable to both the liar and the lied to in some forms, it breaks the norms of what is perceived as a rightful way of living. Even though religious ideals strongly condemn liars and lying as a sinful act, plenty feed from this tactic, fueling their individuality and sense of being. Lying is treated as an unacceptable sinful act but is also one used every day to hide a person’s vulnerabilities and insecurities. I'm sure you’ll agree, it is a defense mechanism that is equivalent to a personality disorder or identity crisis, so it deserves a space for understanding and approval. Needless to say, lying is a two-way street that provides multiple ways of understanding a person and his actions, which are constantly redefined by the lies others tell about them as well as the lies the person himself spins. This is believed to be highly unethical, but for a person who has a fractured identity and pretends to be an amalgam of all the people he’s read about or met, is lying really so bad? What’s wrong in living ensconced in the confines of a lie when your identity is questionable and you don’t fully understand who you are? There is a familiar comfort and solace in lying and knowing you won’t be judged for your behaviour. Lying allows you to evolve and take ownership of yourself and your multilayered identity - which is at once witty and understanding as well as peaking at nuisance.

To give an explanation to the fundamental motivation behind lying, consider Audre Lorde’s words. Lorde believes, “It is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others - for their use and to our detriment.” By this thread, liars simply define themselves (even if it is unethically) before others get an opportunity to scatter their individuality through their half-baked perceptions. While liars may lead pretentious lives, they are actually taking some sort of ownership and agency over their own selves, solidifying the untruths to form a facade worthy of being well liked. In this sense, lying becomes an act of self-definition and liberation, even if it was initially done for all the wrong reasons. Lies become internalized and innate to oneself, carving and sculpting a person’s individuality just like a sculptor sharpens and contours his statues. A repeatedly told lie, which is at once disruptive, slowly becomes synchronous with a person's thoughts and actions, morphing into the truth. In this transformation, after a point a person is no longer lying, but merely existing in his self-made fantasy despite living a life built on a bed of lies. In this way, liars are dreamers or fantasizers weaving stories so that they can create their own materiality rather than live in the present reality. Lying is, arguably, a form of recovery for some people who find it difficult to face the consequences of their actions. They alter their words and hide their actions to seem more digestible for people and to avoid being talked about in the network of horrendous gossip. Call these people weak, but it takes some valor to lie and convince everyone of the authenticity of your statements. Many would contend, one lie leads to a tangled web of others, but not when you’ve lived with the lies long enough to be an existing epitome of them.

The only way this tactic can backfire is if your lies begin to show in your conflicting actions – a unforeseen smile, a deep stare, an unexpected silence, an inconsistent spoken word, anything that can be indicatory of one’s truly held beliefs. Hence, a core requirement of a good liar needs to be a pretentious person, one who is not only good at hiding his true self but can act like his lie is as genuine as he pretends to be. Another challenge can be remembering the lies and owning them so completely, that you can retell them to others in the same fashion. Even though the good memory combined with the need to be pretentious, makes you a fictitious figure, it’s the layers underneath which explain the tremendous urge to lie, hide or conceal. In a sense, lying is like applying makeup – you cover the scars and wounds you don’t want others to see, erasing both your unspeakable actions and your scandalous words. In forging and falsely fashioning such an image of themselves, liars simply have a strong desire to be accepted and struggle to process certain emotions, which explains their desire to build a solidly constructed lie. Everyone is pretentious to some degree but liars master this art in a bid to recover from the miseries of their lives.

Is lying as a form of defence, and to protect yourself from the ravages of the world, really such a bad thing? In my opinion, telling such carefully articulated lies demonstrates a person is well versed in weaving stories, defending one’s actions, and justifying every little pothole they fall into. As long as you can live with yourself and your lies, in a symbiotic relationship, whilst shielding yourself from realities long enough to forget about them, are you really lying or merely embracing a new fabricated version of yourself?

Illustration: Lauren McAndrew

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