Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lies and The Liars



Growth of the Habit Due In Great Measure to Self Deception — The Causes an Interesting Study — Liars Should Be Shut Up In Asylums as the Insane Are.

There is nothing in the power of the human being so bad as a lie. There is nothing that smirches character so bad as a lie. There is nothing that turns one so against himself as a lie. There is nothing that so destroys the confidence of our friends as a lie. There is no compensation possible for the evil of a lie. It eats back corrosively into yourself, and you cannot get back your soundness. It rarely ever even temporarily makes a profit, and I think in the end never.

The puzzle of puzzles is why some people lie so easily. They rarely undertake to be exact and yet do not recognize themselves as liars. It is their first impulse to avoid straightforwardness, and they plunge ahead in conversation, simply trying to get around point after point. It is a mistake and a misfortune to form such a habit. It grows on the victim, and it increases its power. In nine cases out of ten the simple facts would be easily told, and the telling more advantageous than either concealment or a falsehood, but the habit has been encouraged to misrepresent or conceal, and the whole mental nature exhausts its fertility in a purpose not to be open and honest. When this appears in a person of good ability, mild disposition and industry, it is lamentable.

The power of lying as a habit to grow is amazing. The reason probably is that the liar lies to himself as badly as he does to others — that is, he tries to believe he is truthful until he believes what he says is true, or at least is uncertain about it. I know one or two persons with whom you may say lying is a chronic disease. They talk on at entire random. Their whole life becomes a romance. They may occasionally touch bottom on a fact, but they do it by accident. They do not know it. It is simply because facts are so many as to get in their way. "What an unconscionable liar that creature is," said a friend. "She cannot tell the truth." I am not sure but we should have a new name for this sort of people. The fact is they have lost all sense of the true and the false, as they have of right and wrong. Louis Stevenson's novels are no more a piece of intellectual manufacture than are their everyday conversations. This is true not only of some of the lower class, but of an occasional person in the highest ranks of society. I know an eminent litterateur who is so snarled up among the creatures of his imagination that he cannot tell the real from the fictional. It is dangerous to be his friend, for he is liable to get you woven into a great web of his fancies, and then with all his might he believes you are guilty of absurdities or worse that were enacted only in his brain. he will swear to these "facts" with all sincerity. His life can never be restored to a basis of realities.

There should be hospitals for liars, or retreats, such as we provide for the insane when their cases become chronic and dangerous. They become dangerous to the community, quite as dangerous as forgers and shoplifters, and far worse for our own peace and happiness. If by accident you get one of these people into your household, you never will get the confusion rectified. East becomes west. Love is perverted into evil intent. Even facts fail to tell the truth. Everything is wrong end foremost. Half the suicides come from liars' tongues. The worst cases should be treated as insanity and mild cases sent to a hospital.

It would be an interesting study for an analytic mind to study the causes of lying and liars. It is in some cases no doubt a matter almost wholly of heredity. Mothers and fathers hand down moral traits more easily than they do intellectual. A mother should make it a law of her life to be sincere and undeviating. If not, she is sure to reap a sore punishment in and from her children. Practice a habit of living very open hearted. I do not mean prattling facts all the while, but with no chests locked against your beloved ones. An open heart is better than an open mouth.

I pity a really honest person who has tumbled herself hastily into a lie. The temptation came on suddenly, and before she was able to be quite self masterful she prevaricated. Now, to back out of a lie is like backing out of a slough of mud. You get out with mire on you. But is it any better to stay in the slough and wallow about? There is nothing gained, my friend, by sticking to a falsehood simply because you are ashamed to back out. Be as frank as your better nature suggests and get as quickly as possible on the line of absolute honor.

But there are other causes for the liar's character besides heredity. Society is not based on honor, but very largely on pretenses. The good half of social intercourse is offset by another half of deceit and insincerity. This, of course, is stamping itself on character. People cannot live lies and not be liars. The Quakers felt this social degradation and tried to correct it. Let your communication be yea, yea, nay, nay, for whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil. The Quakers, however, do sometimes lie, and all the worse because they have placed so much emphasis on the yea, yea, as better than yes, yes. But they do not make a mistake in insisting on the importance of words. Social flattery and much of social manners are a cover for lies. There is no truth in it. Are you a social liar? — Mary E. Spencer in St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

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