A pattern keeps emerging these past few weeks, one that’s reached its peak in the past few days. Little white lies. It dawned on me last night while I was doing a Speaking test with one of my students. The question was “some people distinguish between white lies (small lies) and serious lies. Do you think they are justified in thinking this way?” My student hurried to boldly claim that no type of lie is acceptable. “We must always tell the truth,” she said as she looked at me awaiting my approval. I smiled. “Are you certain?” I asked. “Isn’t that what I should say?” she answered. I laughed.
The truth is we cannot function, neither as individuals nor as a society, without our little white lies. The truth is we need them to go on, to feel good, to avoid unnecessary conflict, to let someone down easy, to avoid being cruel and mean, when you can simply exhale what the other has been dying to inhale: his white lie quota of the day.
Try going a single day without them. It will prove to be a much more daunting task than you had originally thought. Lies of survival, as a beautiful man I know called them last night; and they are indeed.
If Darwin were still alive he’d be including them in the instincts that have helped us evolve, but mostly stay alive. Survival of the wicked. That is what it has come down to. But is it, wicked? Or is it common sense, decency, kindness? We claim it’s selfless, but to a great extent it’s also selfish. If we hurt someone’s feelings we also have to deal with them after, especially if we have to see that person again soon. So aren’t we really protecting ourselves? Saving ourselves from drama, emotional outbursts and possible long-lasting consequences?
What is the No1 question we keep asking at times like these? “Is it (really) worth it?” But my question is, “well, when is it?” And how will you know when it is? What does a truth worth uttering look like? Does it wink? Do you have a code word by which to identify it?
I’ve spoken far too many truths in my life; some have cost me greatly. And yet at times I feel as though I haven’t spoken nearly enough.
“Do we really need those kinds of truths?” someone told me recently. Those very words, his own truth, was a knife in my heart. A fucking machete. One that tore through everything I had been laboriously mending.
That’s what we don’t realise, even we truth-lovers. Yours is not everyone else’s. Only you care for yours. For the universal truth about truths is that we all crave to speak them, but no one cares to listen.