Little Lies

28 July 2022

Little Lies

And smooth corners.

By Robert Kilconner

Christopher Luxon is the leader of the opposition in New Zealand and hoping to replace Jacinda Adern as prime minister following next year’s general election. That is no easy task bearing in mind  Adern’s obvious sincerity and decency. No doubt he hopes to project the same image himself, in which case it is a pity that his media outlets should have shown him as campaigning when he was in fact taking a short holiday break in Hawaii. It isn’t that he doesn’t deserve a holiday; he has worked long and hard to reinvigorate the National party. Nor that the misleading posts were deliberate; it is just, well, a little bit Boris and that isn’t the image which an aspiring politician would chose just at the moment.

That being said, pretending to do one thing while you are actually doing another is nothing new. In a detective story which I have been reading almost nobody turns out to have been where they said they were when the crime was committed and it would have been a much poorer story if they had been. But it is not merely politicians, murderers and illusionists who use misinformation to disguise their whereabouts and activities. We also do it, often several times a day.

Take telephone calls, for example. “Must go now there is someone at the door,” you say while tapping on the table in imitation of your door knocker. It is harder if you have an electric bell, of course. Intoning “dring dring” in a persuasive style requires a very high voice. All right for the ladies, perhaps, but requiring the men to undergo an operation out of proportion to the gain. Then there are the white lies, innocent, considerate even: “that was really delicious,” or “it was just what I wanted”. Without lies like these the world would be a poorer place. And casual dishonesty is not limited to humans. Those who have birds in the garden often put bells round the necks of their cats to give the birds warning when they are approaching. Watch quietly and you will see the cat creeping forward on three legs while the fourth stifles the clang of the bell. “No, no, there is no cat here”; that is the dishonest message. Would a really principled animal eschew such deception?

Not only is dishonesty everywhere but the amount of it is increasing. “Working at home” has always been something of a loose description, particularly when there is a major sporting event on television. In the past, however, it was relatively rare and although “off sick” achieves much the same result it is perhaps difficult to make it as convincing. Post the Covid outbreak many people work from home and no doubt that often covers plenty of swinging of the lead.

Supposed though that we are all underwent a Damascene conversion, telling the truth literally and honestly on every occasion. Would the world really be a better place? Certainly there would be a lot of avoidable unhappiness: “I have always thought that suits you particularly well”. Many of us would be forced to confront things which we really know are true but are better acknowledged: “yes, I admit it was all my fault”. All in all we would live in a harder and more confrontational world because minor dishonesty, or occasionally major dishonesty, is an oil which smooths off many of life’s rough corners. When does the lubricant become toxic? That is something which all of us have to decide for ourselves.

Tile photo: roman raizen on Unsplash

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