Liars and Commitments

I always try to be honest. I very rarely misstate facts intentionally. I may withhold facts or not say the whole truth, in order to protect. I may speak indirectly to keep some things secret to some people (e.g. kids). I write fiction, which has the presumption of being a story, of some higher truth but not literal. But I don’t lie and I don’t resort to these other methods of communicating facts lightly.

Communicating is a form of commitment. It is a commitment to the person you are communicating with, that these are the facts as you understand them. It is a commitment that the person you are speaking with has a right to hold you to. If you are inconsistent, they have a right to point this out. If you are inconsistent in a way that is beneficial to you, they have a right to be suspicious. And if you are stating the highly unlikely, or what is highly unlikely given the audience to which you are speaking, they have a right to question. The system of communication breaks down when people are dishonest, and we have a commitment to the system of communication in so far as we want to take part in it.

Lies are adversarial, not just to the people to whom you are speaking, but the system of communication itself. Liars are adversarial to community. I have spoken of breaking commitments, however, and the trouble of making commitments deliberately and following through with them deliberately, rather than making them flippantly and later rationalizing away. These are also antithetical to community. They are not adversarial for the reason that they are not done with necessary intention – though under the recognition of what you are doing as ‘flippant’ or what you will likely do as ‘rationalize them away’, they may be.

Lying is also viral. If someone knows people are lying, particularly about other people, then they are less committed to the principle of truth telling about others themselves. It can be quite painful to be thoroughly committed to truth telling when you know others are not, and this can sometimes lead at least to exaggeration and at worst preemptive lying.

To be level headed, to not overcompensate or undercompensate for the emotions which you know may well be affecting your judgment, is a sometimes quite difficult proposition. It is better – I believe – not to compensate at all, but find the peace of mind to state facts and analyze these statements for errors in omission or minimization or exaggeration at a later time, making any necessary clarifications.

Truth-telling is a form of commitment I am good at and do not compromise lightly. Truth-telling is also the ethical characteristic which best holds a person together, as well as a community.

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