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Liar [Apr. 1st, 2012|02:58 pm]
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It's one of the strongest insults in my vocabulary, but also one of the least precise in common parlance. It means "You have intentionally led me to believe, directly or indirectly, that something untrue is true". This meaning is often lost, or misinterpreted. I often reserve it as an insult for someone who uses their lie for their personal benefit and potential or actual detriment to myself or people I care about, but that selectivity doesn't change the meaning. The word itself conveys much more impact than phrasing the same accusation differently[1].

There are many kinds of lies, across a broad spectrum and on multiple axes. Some lies are easier to tell, some are easier to make up, some are easier to excuse, some hurt others less, or even help. There are white lies; lies you tell because they won't hurt anyone, might help someone, and don't seem very bad at the time. There are small lies, which you deem worthwhile enough to make even though they might have negative repercussions. There are exaggerations and hyperbole and stories that grow in the telling or for effect. There are big lies, which might be selfish or profiteering or malicious or evil, the sorts of lies that ruin lives and make fortunes. There are butler lies, excuses to get out of conversations or situations. There are lies of omission, leaving out details to mislead someone "without lying". There are combinations of all of these, and gradients between them.

Our culture[2] seems to be on a long slow path of lying becoming more common, acceptable, or excusable. The is more unfortunate than it might sound because it's not consistent. What to one person is a small white lie is to another person a big lie. Even if both parties have all of the relevant information they could classify the lie differently. It's rare that all the information is available so it's likely that an individuals classification of their own lie is also inaccurate even by their own standards. They choose to tell it because it seems small, but if they knew the impact it would have or the real situation then they wouldn't. Hyperbolic lies tend to grow, especially when the re-teller of the story knows the original story was a lie to begin with, mimicking a game of "telephone" where the originator might not even recognize the tale when it returns to them.

Perhaps I am mistaken about lying becoming more common. Perhaps it has always been just as acceptable as it is now, but modern technology allows us to uncover more lies so we see what appears to be more lies being told when the number has really not increased. The internet and the sorts of accountability and rapid communication that it brings means that more lies can be uncovered more quickly than ever before. Unfortunately I would be naive to expect this to lead to more honesty instead of simply illustrating the already-existing levels of dishonesty. It remains to be seen whether my naivete in trying to convince people to lie less often will be detrimental for me in the long run.

I am writing this because I, just today, called someone a liar. I've a mind to repeat the accusation more often against others in similar situations. They are occasionally people with a modicum of authority over me in a social environment, and whose wrath I do not risk lightly, but I have come to a breaking point on this issue. I make true accusations and they are defended against falsely and I will not stand for that. The specific accusations are usually of such small importance that they are virtually irrelevant when put next to the lies being told to escape them.

[1] "Liar" is very strong. "That's a lie" is less so, and "That's not true and you know it" less so still. They all mean the same thing, but are interpreted different ways.

[2] specifically American, around 5th-95th percentile income individuals and families.


If you don't want to talk to me, tell me that you don't want to talk to me, don't tell me your dog is on fire. If you don't want me to talk about a certain subject to you, or with other people, tell me that, don't lie to me in an attempt to convince me that talking about it isn't worthwhile. Lying to me is almost never going to have the desired result, and the more effectively I can convey that the more likely we are to have successful communicative interactions.
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[User Picture]From: hermitgeecko
2012-04-03 02:40 am (UTC)

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This post was fascinating to me because one of the most important relationships in my life right now is founded on a principle of absolute truth. There are no lie between us; there aren't even half-lies or half-truths. We often speak the half-truths at first... but we immediately go back as soon as we realize that we've done it and say "No, that wasn't true, I'm sorry, here's the truth." No matter how unimportant it seems.

For both of us, it's easy to cloud the truth out of societal habit. It is, for example, much easier to say "I don't feel well" or "I'm sleepy" than it is to say "I want to stop having this conversation" or "I feel the strong need for some time to myself right now." It's much easier to say "Yes, I get it" and then try to cover up my confusion than it is to say "No, you confused me, please say it again" or, worse, "My mind drifted, can you start over?"

I don't think of these as harmful... but having a relationship where they are absolutely not allowed is very freeing. And month by month, it's getting easier. And over time, we're finding that it's incredibly good for us as a couple.

Trying to expand it to everyone I interact with is... well... very scary (again). I keep expecting it to explode on me, and there have certainly been times when I didn't carry it through all the way.

And yet, having one habit of absolute truth makes me more cognizant of those "harmless" half-truths, and I'm avoiding them more and more. And I think it's good for me, and I hope it will be good for my interactions with other people, no matter how scary it is.