To tell you the truth. I wonder how many times have you said that in the last few days? Don’t lie. I can guess the answer is many times, probably followed up by: ‘honestly, I will …..’.
Without being too overdramatic, over the past few years, thoughts of being truthful and honest have troubled me to the point that I can honestly say (there we go again) it changed my life. At the time I was in Dubai and carrying on my life as it had always been. I was running a large and successful business and behaving as I always had. White lies littered the conversation. There was always an excuse which fuelled business and exaggeration was the rule of the day.
I learnt that the best approach was always to stay as close as possible to the truth. Just one minor change, remove one detail, exaggerate a feature and there is a plausible untruth. I used to think of them as untruths and not lies because, I did not lie.
I was happy to skirt around the truth with the first and most obvious example that while I had countless friends really, we were only acquaintances socialising to see what we could get from each other.
Then suddenly it all changed. There were two triggers
First, my youngest daughter Maddie started her Theology degree at Durham. We exchanged thoughts and she shared some of her philosophy essays with me. I started to think about the issue, and secondly, my forthright friend Sviatlana stated to question me. I couldn’t respond to either of them and say, hand on heart, I was an honest person. All I could say was that I wasn’t dishonest.
Honesty comes in many guises and first of those is being honest to yourself and as I reflected I didn’t see much that I liked. I decided I needed to change and change totally. I withdrew from society (which in the real world meant not going out or answering any emails), packed in my job, and turned inwards to write my first novel. On reflection my response was probably too drastic, but it had to be done.
Of course, there were other things happening in my life, not least trying to sort out the emotions and manage physical symptoms of what was diagnosed a long time later as late onset Type 1 diabetes, but I can still remember how I felt. I was deeply troubled by my mood and the way I was working. I could no longer trust myself, let alone anyone else and that only started to change when I recovered a proper balance.
I worked through it and committed to be an honest person and not an untruthful one. As I started writing novels, all with very different major themes, there is always a deeper, underlying melody about the management of honesty and trust in how each character behaves.
It was not easy and at times painful. I have managed myself so that now when I meet someone, and they casually ask the polite question ‘how are you’, I relent. I no longer give a full, let alone a recent medical update.
If Sasha asks me to promise to do something I am not really prevaricating when I say I can only promise to try and possibly not succeed. She is right to rebuke me and if she knew the English idiom she would forever be shouting and telling me ‘too much information’. She just wants me to say either yes or no, but I find it far too difficult.
Rightly, you might ask if I am living in the real world. Probably not, but at least I am being honest to myself and I still trust, absolutely, those close to me, but allow fewer people that close.
Trust is invaluable and at the core of a long lasting and true friendship. Without trust there are no friends and it is a shame therefore that trust, in general, seems to be on decline. How I arrived at my destination will be very different to anyone else’s, but I am not alone in being more wary and less trusting.
Recently the results of an Ipsos Mori poll in the UK again showed that politicians are considered the least trustworthy of all professions. Maybe nothing surprising in that but only 19 per cent of the public think that politicians largely tell the truth.
I have never properly trusted politicians and like most of us we just wish their actions matched their words but 19 per cent!! They have stopped being just untruthful but are now seen as liars.
Journalists were only just rated a few percent more trustworthy and with the phenomenon and that is ‘fake news’ (thank you President Trump for introducing me to the word fake), we don’t know who to believe and the level of trust is even further lessened.
It is not for me to moralise but only observe. I am not going to stand on a soap box and shout at passing crowds that the end of the world is nigh. I made my choice and while I could rant on, which is tempting, rather I will let Tommy, the protagonist in Blah Blah talk for me.
As a little bit of background Scunt, a much younger woman who Tommy has just met, takes him on an unplanned adventure around the UK. Normally funny in his musings, in this excerpt he is much more reflective and for those concerned, before they read the book, I have removed all the spoilers.
The truth is so important. After all that happened to me, I still can’t decide where I stand between Kant and the other philosophers on the moral imperative about lying. As I said, Kant could never justify a lie. He said it removes our moral integrity. When I said to Scunt ‘I love you and I want to be with you for ever and ever and ever’ it was unconditional. It wasn’t ‘I will love you while you stay pretty’ or ‘while you still love me’. It was a promise from deep in my heart. Yet once before I had said similar words to Jenny. In breaking my word to her, can I simply claim that time has moved on? Or that we both changed? There again, does it really matter? Kant was right: telling a lie – or breaking a promise – does remove our moral integrity.
Scunt told me a thousand small and large lies. None were malicious, yet in total they had taken me on what could have been a disastrous journey. If things hadn’t gone as well as they did, would the end still have justified the means? At work every day, at the Bank, I used to tell ‘white’ lies – either to amuse myself or for personal aggrandisement. Occasionally I lied to improve the profits of the Bank. It was fair play because, after all, we all did it every day, and no one saw any moral issues. I guess some of us might have had private concerns or questioned the morality of our actions and those of others, but we easily slipped back into familiar patterns.
The truth is, if Scunt hadn’t lied to me, if she had told me the truth from the very beginning, then we may not have achieved the same outcome, nor had our adventure on the way. She was right when she said I wouldn’t have become interested, and I wouldn’t have become involved.
So, because of our little adventure, based as it was on omissions and lies, reluctantly and uneasily I now go along with the Utilitarian view which accepts lying as a means to balance the overall benefit or minimise harm to society.
Yet this ease with which we can justify a lie has led to problems in western society today, because we tend to disbelieve everything we hear. We are cynical observers of information. Our first assumption is always that we’re being lied to, and we’re less and less concerned, therefore, about anyone who gets trampled in an avalanche of modern world greed.
And we have a word for people who try to trust – naive. But maybe it has been like this forever. The avarice required even to survive – let alone succeed – becomes greater and greater as the number of people we can’t trust increases. It’s a truly vicious circle of the worst kind.