The Truth About Lies!
D. E. Benet
Sometimes the choice of the subject makes the going heavy in the classroom. The recent socio-cultural and political events brought to the classroom a kind of exigency that catalysed a debate over the post-truth society. On that droll day, the millennials wanted to know their living status and took time to pose questions.
They had these two questions, one existential and the other moral - “Is it true that you all spoke truth, nothing but truth once and is telling lies a talent or sin?” For a while, we analysed the cold hard data available and came to the conclusion that our lives are awash with lies, after all.
Fighting hard to snap judge anyone, we arrived at a list of typical liars — innocuous, genial, congenital, compulsive, malicious, pernicious and unconscionable. Then we found out that the word ‘liar’ could be used after any number of adjectives. We all agreed there is none called an infallible liar, and commiseration for the liars is not a misplaced emotion.
The mundane part of it was the spirited discussion on distinction between cock-and bull story and shaggy-dog story. Shallow understanding makes such sessions light and bearable, but attempting deeper understanding can be enervating.
Soon, things got a wee bit personal. A student from the back row shot this first question, “What happened when you told your first big lie, sir?” I quipped, “The crows certainly didn’t caw, betraying me. Nor did I go without food.”
Not at all amused, he asked further: “Don’t you think that you have spent your entire life teaching lies?” which of course had a Nietzschean ring to it. Being a teacher of English literature, I always had this misgiving that I was teaching them mostly fictitious stories, but convinced myself that they were all morally engaging and uplifting stories. The truth of the matter is, as Plato avers, that all poets (read creative writers) are liars. Miffed, I told him, “Look at the politicians to hardcore criminals, they all lie under oath. Do we make an issue of it?”
Absolutely unimpressed, another student asked, “Are you comfortable with the idea that when you open your mouth, truth is the first casualty?” That set me thinking and I responded in a measured tone, “It is only a figment of your imagination. The truth about such fiction or lie is it has a telling effect upon people.”
I knew it was a white lie and my sinking feeling continued. Changing tack, I gave a grand exposition on the truth about lies. I didn’t spare Joseph Goebbels who developed lying into an art and institution and ended up saying how a parrhesiastes had the moral obligation to speak truth alone even at the point of death. As it turned out, talking about spinning a yarn or weaving a tale had a soporific effect on the students at the fag end of the day.
Suddenly, a half-awake student with ungovernable rage said, “It makes me very angry with everyone and everything in the world.” Pressed on, he said awesomely, “The world is full of bold liars and bald lies. Remember, the truth will out.” His accusatory gestures gave me the impression that I was the chief among a nasty breed of blatant liars, spending an entire career espousing lies. Mortified, I decided that one day I would write my autobiography with the title My Experiments with Lie(s).
- The writer teaches English at National College (Autonomous), Tiruchi
- From Today’s ‘The Hindu’ Supplement, EDGE