Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Importance of Little Lies

Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies! Stevie Nicks had the right idea when she implored a potential lover to just tell her what she wanted to hear instead of the truth. I have always loved this song although I never knew why and now I think I do.

On the weekend, I watched The Invention of Lying, a sweet little movie in which the characters live in an alternate reality where no one has ever told a lie and, in fact, no one has the ability to lie. Many things about this mythical world appealed to me immensly. There is no crime or corruption since most criminal acts depend on some kind of subterfuge. People don't have delusions of grandeur because they are unable to fabricate the details of their lives. Everyone knows exactly where they stand with everyone else. On the down-side, there are no novels, movies, plays or anything that would rely on fiction (a lie). And, sadly, people are labelled from birth as ugly, beautiful, intelligent, dim-witted and their destiny is basically marked out for them based on these traits.

Finally, there's no such thing as religion. I guess Ricky Gervais, the writer and main character is making the assumption that all religious texts are made up. If you know me, you know where I stand on this particular point but I won't go into it here.

The fun starts when Gervais' character Mark discovers he has the ability to lie. He tells a bank teller he has $800 in his account when in fact he only has $300, and because she has no concept of deceit, she believes him and gives him the money. He tells an attractive woman that the world will end if she doesn't have sex with him and, panicked, she agrees. However, once the novelty wears off, Mark uses his newfound skill to make people feel better about themselves. He tells slow people they are geniuses, plain people they are stunning and depressed people that they're happy. And they all believe him! Eventually, he's making up fantastical stories all over the place and the masses start to see him as a messiah. A religion is born!

As an etiquette afficionado, I generally don't advocate lying. As an entrepreneur I can get behind the "fake it until you make it" approach to business but overall I consider honesty to be the best policy. In fact, until I watched this movie, I would have told you that I never lie but it brought to light all of the tiny lies that our society is based on and how important those little fibs are to our day-to-day interaction with people.

How many times do we tell people that we're fine when we're not? It's not that we're out to deceive them, it's just that we don't have the time or inclination to share the details and we know that when they asked "how are you", they weren't really interested in the gory details of our lives anyway. If a friend or spouse asks us if they look attractive, fat, thin, etc. our responses are usually a massaged version of the truth or even a bald-faced lie. Our desire to protect their feelings takes precedence over the need to be honest. If someone gives us a gift we hate, we don't say so. We accept it graciously, store it in a closet and display it in the living room when they come to visit. When my husband asks me how much that new bag cost, I artfully shave a few dollars off the total and mumble something about a sale, even if I bought it full-price.

I hadn't really considered all these things as lies until I saw the movie and started to think about all the ways deception is woven into our society. The people in the movie were born into a world without lies and had never known anything else but if we were to suddenly start telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth all the time, I feel it would have an enormous impact on our whole society - good and bad.

We're just not ready for it. Or, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men "you can't handle the truth".

5 comments:

  1. Great post and it is a cute movie!

    I am so guilty of fabricating the price of purses and shoes! My favourite part is when my husband says "Oh, that was a good price" and I reply "Yep, it sure was" then proceed to shred the receipt as fast as possible!

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  2. Thanks for visiting Samantha. To be honest (pun intended). I think my husband knows I'm not being entirely truthful but it makes him feel better about saying he's stopping at the bar for one drink when he intends to have three. Like I said, it all works out.

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