Although I have a built-in lie detector, I can't lie myself. Normally if I need to lie for some reason, I stick to the truth as much as possible, so I don't have to lie. Not that leaving out important information isn't deceitful, but it's easier to do. I have a hard time lying about the little things. When someone asks me about her new hairstyle and it's hideous, I never quite know what to say. "Um . . .it looks fabulous!" is even worse than just saying it looks fine, so the person usually knows that I'm lying. And of course, if she suspects that I'm lying, she usually starts crying -- which calls into question her whole motivation for asking me about her hair in the first place. Clearly, she just wanted affirmation of her lame styling choice.
I often get angry when I realize that people don't really want the truth. But I wonder if my ire is unwarranted. After all, is truth something we should all strive for all the time? Or is it OK for people to want to be told they're pretty or nicely dressed? It seems that white lies don't hurt anything on the surface. Yes, your hair looks fine. Your dress looks fine. You did a great job with that speech. What harm is done?
On the other hand, maybe white lies hurt more than we might think initially. I don't know if they are the cause or the symptom, but at some point our society has shifted from desiring and expecting the truth to expecting the honeyed-over version of the "facts." We expect our friends to lie to us. We expect our family to lie to us. We certainly expect our government to lie to us.
Though many people point fingers at former President Clinton for taking liberties with the truth and perpetuating a shift in our culture's perception of the truth, he's actually a product, not a cause. Before Clinton, Reagan lied about the Iran-Contra affair in the 80s. In fact, Lyndon Johnson's lies about the Vietnam War provided us with the first use of the term "credibility gap," so lying by Presidents isn't exactly new.
The recent drama involving the Bush administration's possible deceit about the invasion of Iraq highlights our attitude toward lying. There is some negativity toward Bush for the perceived lies regarding Iraq, but in general most people seem to accept being lied to by the government as par for the course. It's simply expected. So our attitudes toward lying aren't a recent development but rather a paradigm shift in culture. It's not so much that people don't want the truth; they don't expect to get it from anybody.
What effect does this have on us? I think most people are complacent in regard to their ignorance. They don't want the truth, but then they are implicated when bad things happen. People prefer to fall back on the excuses: "We didn't know" and "We were lied to."
Our country's invasion of an independent nation without any real provocation and no weapons of mass destruction to be found is a serious matter, and one that will have repercussions in the world community for quite some time. But as it is, most of us can try to shirk the responsibility. We didn't know! We were lied to!
They may seem to be worlds apart, but those petty lies we tell each other and the earth-shattering whoppers we're fed by the government are inextricably linked. Our habit of never telling the truth when a lie will do prepares us for the same behavior on an international level. Plus, we all get to feel good about ourselves. Our hair looks great, our shoes are cute and we do a terrific job with everything we undertake. The United States only steps into world politics when absolutely necessary. See how happy we are.
Of course, none of it is true. In reality our new haircut sucks. Our shoes are a terrible shade of brown that doesn't match anything. We put people to sleep when we give speeches. And the United States is more like an international bully than a peacekeeping force.
But the important thing is that we all have high self-esteem. Right, kids?