Do not stop lying and you haven’t started, then get to it – at least that’s what Mark Twain thinks.
If you haven’t read Mark Twain’s essay “On The Decay of The Art of Lying”, then it should definitely be the next thing to read. It is a good read! It is a short essay written by the master of essays. Mark Twain wrote this essay in 1885 for a meeting of the Historical and Antiquarian Club of Hartford, Connecticut. In the essay, Twain focuses on the lost art of lying by discussion why people lie, the different kinds of lies, situations in which people lie and why all lies are not bad. He concludes by insisting that: “the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling.
I have never heard anyone argue for dishonesty – for Politicians and Lawyers for that matter. While it is entertaining to poke fun at Politicians and Lawyers for lying, let’s be honest with ourselves and agree with Mark Twain that we are all liars. We often forget that we sometimes indulge ourselves in something Twain likes to call “silent lie”. Silent lie is simply not speaking when you know that your words (the truth) will not better a specific situation or might cause some kind of harm/damage – Twain likes to label such truth as an injurious truth. Twain makes the argument that an injurious truth is as deadly as an injurious lie. In a nutshell, Mark Twain argues that lying is good, so long as your intentions are good. Sounds so good from such an intelligent man, but wait…. we do not judge a man’s character by his intentions, do we? I don’t know what world you live in, but on earth and with humans, we certainly do not judge people by their intentions, but by their actions. The irony is we judge ourselves by our intentions and judge others by their actions. It makes sense – we judge people by the “knowns” and not the “unknowns”. We judge people by what we can see and examine and not what we hope to see in them. Lying in itself is bad irrespective of intentions.
Now, I don’t know what was going in the 1880’s to provoke Mark Twain to write an essay on the decay art of lying, but I know what is going on in my generation and I can say that we live in lies and we have lost the art of truth telling – maybe Mark Twain got his point across and it has created another problem. Looking at it closely, the problem here is not lying, but acceptance and unconditional love. People want to be accepted and people want to be loved, but we often reject others’ authenticity in exchange for their “fakery”. When someone tells us of their weakness, struggles, and shortcomings, we hypocritically alienate ourselves from them instead of trying to understand, accept and love them. This forces people to paint a different picture of themselves or their situation in order to be accepted and this leads to lies upon lies. We become people pleasers only to please ourselves. Pleasing people only to please ourselves means that our entire happiness and well being is dependent on others. It does not get more dangerous than this.
When you lie, you need to tell more lies to cover up the first lie and this leads to you being buried in lies and losing your identity as a person. We are relational beings who cherish relationships, but there can never be a solid relationship without trust and what usually negates trust is dishonesty. At the end of the day, we want to build healthy relationships based on trust.
Telling the truth is not easy and it can prove costly. You stand the chance of being alienated by society when you tell the truth, but it does indeed set you free. It sets you free from guilt and sets you free from the prison of lies. Lies limit you and what you can do or say, because when you are caught up in a lie, your credibility and brand takes a major hit and you might never be able to rebound from that. Tell the truth, but do not go around telling people they are ugly. You might be telling the truth, but you are being disrespectful. When your opinion is not needed, don’t talk – this is self control and wisdom. If you have something to say about somebody, make sure it will encourage and elevate them. If you have nothing good to say about an individual, you can humbly swallow your comments and allow the person to live. Contrary to Twain’s opinion, choosing not to comment is not necessarily lying, but in most cases, wisdom. He calls it silent lie, but I call it wisdom. Wisdom is not only found is words but in silence as well.
Twain says we should master the art of lying, I say we should master the art of telling the truth by including wisdom. 20 something odd years of living, I have realized that telling the truth does not only free the person telling the truth, but it frees the recipient of the truth. The truth is a tough pill to swallow, but the pill will cure your sickness once it enters your system. The truth might not be received with a glorious heart at first, but with time, it will accomplish it’s task: correct, inform, educate, reveal, and help. What if we went about giving each other false feedbacks? Our planes wouldn’t have been flying and our ships wouldn’t have been floating. Someone has be open and honest with you in order for you in order for you to see your faults. If you can’t see your faults and wrong doing, you might go about your life only to end in disaster. We should not only develop the art of “truth telling”, but we should develop the art of “truth receiving”.
Mark Twain made some valid points about the benefits of lying, but I prefer the truth. Yes, we all tell lies and we can’t escape that. But we should make conscious efforts to speak the truth when necessary and we should do our best to accept and love people for who they truly are.
As previously mentioned, On the Decay of the Art of Lying was an essay written in 1885 for a $30 prize for the “Historical and Antiquarian Club of Hartford”. Twain notes that he did not win a prize for this essay. Well, I don’t know whether to believe he did or did not win the prize. I don’t know what to believe anymore.