I never bothered to read Mark Twain. People who know me would understand it. But horrors of horrors, I read him few weeks back after I was urged by my friend. And much to my surprise, I read it with interest. Interest because it wasn’t some lame poem. It was an essay titled “On the Decay of the Art of Lying.” Believe me, I wasn’t looking for validation of my lying habit. In fact, I hate to lie. I confess I’m not a saint and so I have lied few times, and I’ve always felt horrible after doing so. I felt horrible for two main reasons: for having a runny mouth that tends to develop a brain of its own when I’m nervous, and for shedding ethics – ethics that I try hard to live by – for short-term gains or for being scared of saying truth.
And then there’s a third reason why I don’t lie. It’s because you have to remember your lies. For a lazy person like me, it’s simply too much of work. I had a friend who loved to lie. But the problem with him was, he was lousy when it came to keeping track of his lies and so I was always able to catch him. This drawback of his reaffirmed my belief – lazy people shouldn’t lie.
Just the other day, my friend and I were discussing lies and why people feel compelled to lie. Mind you, I don’t have problem with few lies here and there but I’m quite baffled when I meet people who don’t hesitate to lie left, right and center. They even lie when they don’t have to gain or lose anything by lying. While writing this blog post, I looked up for this disorder. It’s called mythomaniac. Wow. This means there are enough of people going around who are obsessive and compulsive liars to have an entire term invented for them. Just wow.
Anyway, coming back to Mark Twain. To be honest, after reading the essay I was confused. The first thought that hit was: “was he kidding?” I did lean toward this thought initially, given the fact that Twain was a humorist too. I did think it must be his sarcastic piece with a humor twist. But longer I thought about it, more I shifted my stance. His one point made me rethink my entire outlook toward lies. Just read this para from his essay:
“If a stranger called and interrupted you, you said with your hearty tongue, "I'm glad to see you," and said with your heartier soul, "I wish you were with the cannibals and it was dinner-time." When he went, you said regretfully, "Must you go?" and followed it with a "Call again;" but you did no harm, for you did not deceive anybody nor inflict any hurt, whereas the truth would have made you both unhappy.”
This made me realize aren’t manners all about lying? Don’t we ask the other person whom we meet at a party about how they are doing when we couldn’t care less if they took a flying hike to Mars? When proverbs like “Children and fools always speak the truth” failed to instill the appreciation of lying in me, this point made me rethink my entire belief.
The essay goes on how to cultivate the art of lying and how we humans are turning into lousy lairs. As I kept on reading, I couldn’t make my mind whether I should double up with laughter or shake my head with the points the essay is trying to make.
However, I settled on one realization. I won’t feel guilty when I lie to protect an innocent. I will lie when I’m not hurting anyone with it. But I wouldn’t lie for sheer fun. Unlike most of us.
PS: If you have time, please read the essay. It’s quite enlightening.