Lying is among the most challenging skills of the human brain. Samuel Butler considers it as no mean feat when he declares that any fool can tell the truth but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well.
Lying can be an art. Some people master it perfectly. They can lie, cheat, treat you badly, and somehow manage to make it all seem like it’s your fault. We hear a Shakespearean character say: ‘He will lie, sir, with such volubility that you would think truth were a fool.’
Lying and politics are like Siamese twin. Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, had tremendous capacity for falsehood. About the merits of lying he developed a theory which is: repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.
US President Richard Nixon lied about the Watergate scandal. Ronald Regan, reputed to be a pathological liar, was equaled by none in the art of lying. He believed that telling the truth is stupid. About Iran-Contra scandal he said: ‘A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.’
Bush and Blair, masterminds of the Gulf War, perhaps, took their cue from Goebbels. This notorious duo told the world, in so many words, over and over again, that Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction posed a real threat to global peace. Then, in lightning speed, their soldiers swooped on the Arab country reducing its structures to rubble. Soon enough, we realized that what they had told us was a monstrous lie.
Lying can land you in a potential peril. Bill Clinton’s is a case in point. The former US President was dragged to the point of impeachment not so much because he had developed an improper relationship with a Whitehouse intern, Monika Lewinsky, but because he had lied about it.
The trouble began when the charming young lady decided to tell the world her fairy tale in which Bill played the greater part. Unfailingly, she hit media headlines across the world and became a celebrity overnight.
But you gape with surprise when the World Bank becomes the part of a horrendous scheme of lying. We watched the entire drama of the WB withdraws itself from the Padma bridge project basing on a claim that was purely fictitious. Then, we have seen, with a good deal of amazement, how a nation can make vigorous move to stand on its own feet when its pride is seriously wounded.
But, perhaps, no lie could possibly be as crude as the one woven by Amar Desh. The Bangla Daily fooled us one fine morning by publishing a picture of the Imams of Kaaba sharif holding a Ghilaf, which the daily described as a human chain formed by the Imams displaying a banner to protest the capture of Delwar Hossain Sayeedi.
The fact is, changing the Ghilaf at a regular interval is a traditional ritual of Makkah which has nothing to do with our domestic affairs. Clearly, the whole story was fabricated to foment unrest.
Lying can hurt, especially when it shows utter disregard for your feelings. Just think of the nonchalant shrug with which the Managing Director of the WASA dismissed the complaint that the water supplied by it is not good enough. You cannot help feeling offended or even cheated, as a self-respecting citizen living in the capital, when the MD makes a loud-mouthed claim to the media that WASA water is a hundred percent pure and drinkable without even needing to be boiled.
A comic situation arose when a small group of aggrieved men and women of Narinda of old Dhaka gathered in front of the WASA building the next morning with a jug filled with lemon juice made with the stinking WASA water swarming with insects. They sincerely wished the WASA chief to have a taste of the drink they took special care to prepare. To our amusement, the MD gruffly refused to be entertained with the lemon water.
Among certain agencies there are some who clearly draw inspiration from Goebbels. They never tire of repeating the same bogus tale. So, whenever a killing happens, they routinely dub it as something else. The harm it does to our society is that it gives legitimacy to foul play and we get increasingly brutalized by it.
But the mother of all lies is, perhaps, the BNP government’s staging a melodrama in which Joj Mia, a street hawker at Gulistan, was picked up and put behind bars for the 21 August grenade attack which claimed twenty four lives and left hundreds wounded.
The police with unusual swiftness not only wiped all evidence of the carnage but let the perpetrators escape unharmed.
The poor Joj, who could never have imagined, even in his wildest dream, that his name could be implicated in this case, had no choice but agree to cooperate with police. In return, his family was regularly paid a monthly allowance of 2,000 taka as recompense. While the whole nation was aghast at the bloodcurdling massacre, some BNP lawmakers informed the nation in a Parliament session that it was Sheikh Hasina who had carried the grenades in her hand bag. Perhaps, nowhere else you could find such grotesque things happen except in children’s story books.
To look at the matter upside down, Friedrich Nietzsche, the nineteenth-century German philosopher said, ‘We need lies in order to live.’ Research suggests that learning to lie is also important.
The higher the position, the greater may be the need to evade the artless truth. That’s why diplomats feign illness which is called ‘diplomatic illness’ to avoid embarrassing the host or to skirt thorny issues.
Sometimes you have to learn the art of how not to tell the plain truth. Before setting out on his great expedition, Christopher Columbus convinced Queen Isabella that he would surely find a way to India. Upon return, though he knew that he had got to a new continent, Columbus insisted on the idea that he found a way to islands near India. No doubt, the lie served its purpose.
Lying in social life is pretty common. Husbands and wives lie to each other, children lie to parents, politicians lie to people, lawyers lie to judges, tenants lie to landlords, and the borrowers infinitely lie to the lenders. In fact, life would be practically miserable, if it were not adorned with a fair proportion of lies.
If you are given to name-dropping and go around telling people that you hobnob with so and so’s, that you marvel at the streak of your own genius, that you are far more important than people around you will ever get to know, blah, blah, blah, no harm is done.
If your friend has been fighting a losing battle against obesity, still telling them that they look great might make them feel good. Sometimes being kind is better than being completely honest.
Keeping details of previous relationships private or maintaining a little mystery about them will help keep your relations stable.
There are times when you haven’t got enough cash in his wallet. While your girlfriend would insist on going on an outing or shopping with you in the evening, you could avert it by running to the gym telling her that you have an important appointment or meeting at a posh restaurant in the town.
Truth is precious. So with certain categories of people you have to be economical with truth. Small success, compounded by narrow worldview and mediocrity, inflate some people, like the proud frog in a children’s story, to the point of bursting out. They have zero tolerance for a word of criticism. Giving an honest opinion on their matters can only invite hostility for you.
There are others who put on a camouflage and often suffer from hallucination of being exposed. Offence is their best defense. Steer clear of truth when you have to deal with them.
As you can’t dispense with lies altogether, the best thing you could possibly do is to learn to tackle them squarely.
The writer teaches English at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet. He can be reached
at: [email protected]