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The lies we tell, and those we want to hear.
The other night, our power went out, which is not terribly unusual. However, it stayed out, which is. But my wife and I treated it like an unplanned camping trip. We got out some candles, crawled into bed, and read to each other in the dim, flickering light. It was like Little House on the Prairie up in here.
Unfortunately, with the air conditioner off, I became extremely interesting to our Pomeranian. The tiny dog forced her way between us, lifted my arm with her snout, and took a very, very deep sniff of my armpit. It was…unsettling.
I was prepared to ignore it, that is until the dog scurried down the comforter and vigorously rubbed her nose in the bed. My mind raced to understand what I was witnessing. This dog, which I have seen use feces as chew toys, was trying desperately to remove the remnants of whatever she had encountered underneath my arm.
I was, admittedly, a little offended.
My wife read my face and laughed, saying, “She’s just playing in the covers. She does it all the time.”
I briefly accepted this white lie, feeling slightly better. But then the little ball of fur moved to the end of the bed and very obviously, and dramatically, took a massive sniff of my wife’s feet. Right up in between the toes.
After this colossal inhale, the dog’s entire body relaxed as she melted into her usual spot on the corner of the bed. She had clearly used the smell of feet as a palate cleanser, successfully removing the stench of my armpit, allowing the teacup puppy to settle back into her favorite pastime of gnawing on her own butt.
Now I was really offended.
Part of me considered taking a shower. Part of me thought about telling the dog she didn’t smell like lilacs in the springtime. However, most of my mind was occupied by the philosophical issue my dog’s candor had raised: the nature and impact of honesty.
“Honesty is the best policy” is one of those things we all heard growing up, but that we intuitively knew was nonsense. Honesty is what got us grounded by our parents, yelled at by our teachers, and beaten by our peers. So in reality, we all knew it was occasionally the best policy, but its sweeping utilization was not something we ever seriously considered. So we began subconsciously separating untruths into two categories: white lies and black lies.
As children, this was usually easy. “Yes I cleaned the hamster cage” might be acceptable, but “No I did not build a hamster catapult on the roof” was probably not.
“No Mother, you don’t look tired” was polite. “Grandpa stopped breathing, haha, JK” was, in most households, impolite.
But the line became harder to discern as we got older. “Hey man, I saw your ex-girlfriend drunkenly making out with the falafel vendor outside the bar” could go either way. They had already broken up, so was that information necessary? Even if it was, did you really want to be the bearer of such news? And more importantly, could this girl now get you free falafel? That’s not the kind of hook-up you casually cast aside.
So the world became complex, and our adherence to honesty became extremely individualized, removing the false distinction of “honest” and “dishonest” that we like to misleadingly place on people.
The fact is that we all lie. We’ve just decided which lies we tell and when. Most importantly, we’ve reconciled that we can do so and still be good people.
As a result, we all now live in a grey area, which isn’t a bad thing. It just means that we can’t demand something we’re not willing to provide. And that “something” is unadulterated honesty.
So the statement, “Tell me the truth, I can handle it” isn’t fair for any parties involved. We want to be lied to, and we’re not really in a position to decide which lies should be told. Only the person with all the relevant information can decide that. So the best we can do is try to surround ourselves with people who we believe can make these judgments wisely.
We want people who live in the grey as we do, but who will use untruths sparingly and effectively. We want people who will give us enough information to successfully navigate the world, but not so much that we can’t enjoy it. And because those people love us enough to live in the grey, we can handle a few instances of well-stated and well-intentioned candor.
The other night, when our electricity finally kicked back on, and I looked down at our dog still curled up at our feet, and then up at my wife’s wry smile, I knew the truth was—I did need to hop in the shower. But when I got up to do so, she was nice enough to lie and tell me it could wait until the next chapter.
Author: Dane Phillips
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Author’s Own