Honesty is the best policy – a maxim for life that should supposedly move us to maturity where the truth is enshrined as the epitome of all things good. Lying is a taboo that corners us in the classroom and chides us as children as we test the truth. (At least, that’s what I was always taught!) But I soon learned this was nothing but a fabulous fantasy; well-disguised as it subtly exposed a very different experience of reality. Did people, (adults I’ll call them, however inappropriately) and even adolescents, engage in harmless white lies or were they perpetrating great untruths about life, love and the pursuit of happiness? For whatever values we are expected to adhere to, it’s not long into childhood that we discover honesty is NOT the best policy at all. Reality makes a mockery of that mantra; our social fabric is riddled with lies (though now they call it spin!) where parents, politicians and other pundits who are designed to preserve our moral virtue play games that are permeated with deceit and dishonesty, (albeit unconsciously at times).
These custodians of our goodness, when confronted by others demanding the truth, will too often reply – “I can’t remember” – a convenient excuse that exonerates them of blame. They’ll even turn their head away without facing the facts or lie again to cover their trail of untruths. Is this the new modern wisdom where the truth is buried in a pathological disorder that distorts our reality? Be it our family or our friends, it is often difficult to discern the truth when many people have become so adept at acting out their role in a drama writ large. (The Hollywood Oscars should belong to us all!) They believe their own bullshit; without caring about the pain they may inflict on others and the hurt and suffering they offload. Learning this lesson of life is paramount to our survival; too often at work we don a disguise to be nice to people we do not like, simply to eke out a living. We know some have lied and are unable to do anything about it. Yes, we can complain, call them for what they are, but then, who will believe us? People can be so used to their own lies that they can’t even recognise the truth when it’s staring them in the face! Moreover, understanding one person’s truth and how he or she might experience the real world can be very different to your own perception because of ignorance. Which real world is the truth? And is there one? At times, we have to live a lie ourselves; honesty is lost somewhere in the fight just to stay alive and we lie to others to ensure our existence. Other times, we can lie on purpose to find out the truth; seeing how others react to our lies often uncovers their own untruths. It’s a complex scenario that involves guile and treachery; but there’s one maxim I still believe in – to thine own self be true! If you know the truth about yourself, that’s ultimately what’s significant.
Did Victoria’s former Police Commissioner, Christine Nixon, come clean at the Royal Commission on the Bushfires just to make peace with herself or was she forced into it? Maybe it was a bit of both as she retracted her original testimony and admitted her lies. Does that now make her a good person? And should she be punished? Do we want to punish the wicked (is that what we should call them?) for lying, or should we just walk away and leave them to their own madness? Because that’s what it really is: a sociopathic affront on our sanity and well-being! And what of Collingwood Football Club coach, Mick Malthouse, who recently said he was talking to his own players when confronted by the truth of calling St Kilda midfielder, Stephen Milne, a rapist? Just a couple of days later, Malthouse apparently (no surprise, really)) recovered his memory to be fined $7,000 by the AFL after it investigated the claims and he had to acknowledge the truth. Are dollars really what it’s about? Is that justice and does it make amends for his flouting of the truth? Do we all need to investigate each other? Or should we trust our intuition and just ignore the lies others tell us? Or am I just a hardened cynic in thinking lies are the natural core of the human condition?
As a journalist in a previous life, I wanted to report the truth, but too often people told me the truth, only to add that you can’t write it. Off the record, as it goes. The truth was too incriminating, too shameful. Tread softly and avoid trouble. I got very disillusioned with the profession and called it quits a long time ago. It wasn’t that I wrote lies, but it was lies of omission, so often misleading the veracity of my words. And is the lie of omission any more honest than that of commission? Wherein is the truth? Dissolved in print! And I soon learned journalists lied, too. To me and to others of their own kind. It’s not just our political leaders who have become masters of spin, but it seems too many people have made a creative artform of lying. It is increasingly hard to know the truth; and does the truth waiver depending on our perspective? It is undoubtedly one of our great philosophical conundrums to comprehend the truth, and does it really matter in our chaotic, complex world anymore? Should we leave it to those with a genius of mind like Einstein and J.S. Mill to clarify for us? And do their words of wisdom translate into a morality we should adopt? I’m no longer sure who to believe and who to trust and even more confused as to whether any real trust exists in our western world.
The reality might be that no one really trusts anyone, suspicion reigns sacrosanct, but without trust we miss out on a lot of joy and a genuine rapport with people. Making ourselves vulnerable by being honest can invite pain and hurt when that honesty is violated. People can take advantage of us and manipulate our emotions, but then, it’s their problem. I still believe in the truth; indeed, it inspires my life and ignites my passion, even if some truths are ethereal and hard to grasp. And it’s my truth; for me, to me and by me, even if I sometimes lie to others to save my own life. At least, I know I’m lying. I feel pity for those who lie and don’t or can’t even face it; indeed, many don’t even know they’re lying and commit the real sin by cheating themselves. In the end, they will face their own day of judgment. There’s a saying that now guides me through life: “ I don’t know about anybody else but me and there but for the grace of God go I” .I still embrace people I meet with enthusiasm and interest even if I am disappointed down the track. As George Harrison once sang (The Beatles have words for almost everything) Let It Be! (And that’s certainly a truth I can relate to!)