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Altruistic Lie, Not Deception, Is a Social Condition

Jainab Tabassum Banu Sonali

Altruistic Lie, Not Deception, Is a Social Condition
Jainab Tabassum Banu Sonali

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The famous American singer and songwriter Bobby Darin popularised the line “My whole life has been a lie” which still has a great impact factor in today’s world. Our life is a lie, or philosophically saying an illusion, as it lies on the bed of white and gray, small and big, innocent and evil lies. The whole world is wrapped in lies. We have taken the act of lying as a social condition and sometimes a survival strategy. We lie for so many known and unknown reasons. Nevertheless, the lie which is used for ruining one’s life, relationships, ideology and belief system is not a simple lie, but a deception.

Lying is a part of our discursive system. We often lie about ourselves. We lie to save our reputation. We lie to save ourselves from any humiliation and punishments. We lie to save our relationships. We lie to safeguard other’s emotions. We lie to impress others for gaining more rewards and admiration. All these lies are saviours because they are harmless and are used for constructive reasons. These sorts of lie do not deceive others or play with their emotions. They are simply social lubricants.

We both men and women lie in our everyday interactions with others. In most cases, research says that women tend to lie more altruistically than men. They lie mostly to please others and save the relationships that they have with different people in their lives. Men mostly lie about themselves—about their academic results, about professional positions and even about their salaries. Nevertheless, whichever the reason is, we lie purposefully. Among many other purposes, the most common one is the fear of losing something or someone.

We are afraid of losing the person we love and so we hyperbolically say “I cannot live without you” whereas in reality, the existence of our life does not really rely on the presence or absence of anyone. Maybe we get upset for the time being, but we exist! Students lie out of the fear of losing grades. So, they make excuses like traffic jams when they get late for a class or a test. Another common lie is an inevitable sickness that never exists, when they delay the submission of an assignment. Job holders lie about their illness too so that they can get an early leave or an advanced day off for accomplishing their personal tasks.

These days, one of the most commonly spoken lies is told about the covid test result. Since the current variant is very contagious, lying about it may harm others. Still many people lie about being covid positive. Why? It is simply because we are afraid of losing 14 normal days from our beautiful and active life. A couple of days ago, it was declared on the national TV channels that the isolation period has been reduced to 10 days now. Nonetheless, isolating yourself from the whole normal world even for 10 days can be fearsome. Many things may happen in ten days. Due to this sort of unpredictability and uncertainty, people hide and lie about their test reports.

The contradictory scenario is also noticed around us. Without going for a test, many assume to be covid patients in order to seek sympathy and unfair considerations. This lie is not a lie, but a deception. Less people in workplaces will just slow down the entire motion of the work itself. For a deceptive individual reason, a community may suffer collectively. This is why it is high time we stopped creating false stories about our health. If someone is covid positive, it is his or her civic responsibility to let others know the truth and help to stop spreading the virus among the uninfected ones. Similarly, if someone is not a covid patient, but is just going through a common cold and flu, he or she should not lie about the health condition. The absence of one person in a team can make the entire team suffer.

Now, the inevitable question comes—why do we lie so naturally when we know that what we say is a complete lie? The famous existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche writes, “The lie is a condition of life”, because, as he goes on writing, “what is the truth, but a lie agreed upon”. He writes about truth that “Truths are illusions of which we have forgotten that they are illusions”. What we perceive as truth may not be an absolute truth, but an established one which might not be true, but a lie agreed upon. We speak our own versions of truth. When I write “version”, I mean the kind of “story” we like to tell people and want them to believe in it.

And how does the concept of storytelling come? It has a historically rooted connection with the emergence of human language. Yuval Noah Harari writes in his widely acclaimed book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, “Our language evolved as a way of gossiping and a means of sharing information about the world”. This gossip theory is hilarious, but seems valid as Homo sapiens—the current version of human beings—developed the cognitive ability of speaking an entire line like “there is a lion near the river”. As soon as they started saying the whole sentence, they began making new sentences. In transmitting information about the world around them, the sapiens used exaggerated notions which turned out to be lies as Harari writes, “Homo sapiens can speak about things that don’t really exist”.

With the cognitive revolution, the concepts of myths, gods and religions came into the existence of the human thought process. Human beings are cognitively superior to other animals. This is why we are in charge of a rich and vast faculty of language. We have the ability to speak the truth, to hide it and even to tell a lie. Great philosophers like Socrates thinks that telling lies to protect a friend is something that a good friend would do. In such cases, Plato, in The Republic, approved of lying if telling the truth is a wrong thing to do. Causing harm to others by speaking an unfavourable and bitter truth is ethically even worse.

Many Bangladeshi people lied about the presence of the freedom fighters who were hiding in their places to remain safe from the rajakars. Many mothers saved their sons’ lives and wives saved their husbands’ lives by lying to the attackers. These lies are holier than the truths as they saved the lives of the innocent ones and also prevented the enemies from killing our heroes. These are altruistic lies which are made with the intention of benefiting others. They are good lies. So, lying is a social norm when it is done for the sake of social peace and order. Otherwise, deception is always ruinous and destructive.

 

The writer is a Lecturer, Department of English Language and Literature, Premier University Chittagong