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The truth about lying

I'm tempted to say 'I'm too busy' when my editor instructs me to spend the day trying not to lie. But that would be economical with the actualité, to quote that unashamed fibber Alan Clark.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2011 21:16 IST

I'm tempted to say 'I'm too busy' when my editor instructs me to spend the day trying not to lie. But that would be economical with the actualité, to quote that unashamed fibber Alan Clark.

Cynics would say politicians such as Clark and journalists like me must be laureates of the lie, unlike ordinary people who claim, in a new survey, to lie just three times a day. I genuinely can't recall being dishonest in print. So I am shocked when I realise two fibs have already slipped from my lips before 10 am.

Like most people, I convince myself that little white falsehoods - insincere compliments, wanting to please, pretending everything is fine - are essential social lubricants. Honestly, however, I lie to make life easy for myself. And I'm not alone.

According to the survey, commissioned to mark the DVD release of Lie To Me (a US series in which Tim Roth plays a charismatic body language expert who - gasp - sometimes lies), people most often lie about where they are and whether the household chores are done. Partners are most commonly on the receiving end ("Yes dear, I'm on my way home," as you step outside the pub), followed by colleagues, friends and the boss.

Early January in the office is the season for inconsequential deceit about Christmas.

I come clean about a stonking New Year's Day hangover but when a colleague asks if I bought my new cardigan on January 1, I say yes, to save myself a tedious explanation. Then, in our morning ideas meeting, I tell a tale about having an excellent night's sleep, oblivious to the fact that my laptop was under my pillow. This really happened but I change one small detail, for ease of anecdote-telling.

Another lie.

I confess all to a friend at lunch. She reckons she would be single without lies. "To maintain any relationship you have to tell a few porkies and be prepared to be lied to," she says. This doesn't mean her relationship is based on Clintonesque whoppers ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky"). Hers are sweet little lies: "I'll be ready in five minutes" and "It was in the sale". Do women lie less than men? "They lie better," she says. Horribly conscious of my transparent dependence on half-truths and hogwash, I don't lie again, at least until after I finish this article at 3.34pm.

Is lying a vice or a pragmatic virtue? Opinion is divided.

"Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society", believed Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nietzsche put it more forgivingly: "That lies should be necessary to life is part and parcel of the terrible and questionable character of existence." But sages agree on one point: a liar will not be believed, even when they speak the truth; one falsehood spoils a thousand truths.

So will anyone believe anything I ever write again? No? Oh dear, I better resign now.