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GUIDING LIGHT| Truth is like ...

Ironically, we lie to save our pride, to live in disguise, in a fool's paradise and to fool others, writes Mukesh Setia.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2006 15:53 IST

Why do people lie?
We lie. Sardonically, this happens to be the biggest truth; most people lie most of the time. Ironically, we lie to save our pride, to draw curtains over our sins and mistakes, to live in disguise, in a fool's paradise and to fool others. We fib about our wealth and power so that we astound people.

The more we lie and the more frequently we lie, the more comfortable we get to the idea of lying and are thus able to deliver falsehoods without batting an eyelid. Another major factor, which forces us to lie, is to earn money, to grab a business opportunity, post or position.

Somehow, we feel that the glory and achievement obtained through lying will wash away the guilt or shame. It does not. The problem is that too few persons adequately consider any ethical perspective when facing a situation that tempts a lie.

A lie is a statement that is untrue, when the falsity of the statement is known or suspected by the speaker. Depending on definitions, a lie can be a genuine falsehood or a selective truth, a lie by omission, or even the truth if the intention is to deceive or to cause an action not in the listener's interests. To lie is to tell a lie. A person who tells a lie, and especially a person who habitually tells lies, is a liar.

In every religion, uttering falsehoods is a sin and we commit this sin, perhaps most frequently than any other.
According to Hindu mythology, this is Kalyug. The struggle to live and subsist is getting harder with each passing day, so people seem to have adapted to lying to get away from sticky situations.

Generally, we enjoy when kindergarten kids lie, lying at that age does not seem such a problem. Young children (ages 4-5 years) often make up stories and tell tall tales. This is normal activity because they enjoy hearing stories and making up stories for fun. These young children may blur the distinction between reality and fantasy. But it's sad that most adolescents and adults do the same.

According to many people, a lie may be permissible if telling the truth might hurt someone. When trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation, perfect honesty may seem second best next to values like compassion, respect, and justice. Yet many philosophical and religious traditions have long claimed that rarely, if ever, is a lie permissible.
The solution to our dissatisfaction begins with acknowledging the value of ethical reasoning and ends with a commitment to follow through with what we determine is the right thing to do.

Everyone hates being lied to. Short of violence, it is the worst thing you can do to anyone. The reason that we hate lies is not just because of God or any universal moral precepts but because we wish to navigate carefully through life, and to do so we must be able to calculate our true position. When someone lies to us, they know their position but they have given us false data, which obscures our position.

Lying is theft. When you tell someone something, which they take to be true, and as a result they invest their time, money, or even their care, you have stolen these things from them because you obtained these from them with false information.
Lying creates inequality. Since you also do not like being lied to- I have to date not known anyone who wanted to be deceived, you have acted as if there were two classes of humans: you, with the right to lie, and everyone else, who must be truthful to you so that you would not lose your way.

Lying treats people as a means to the end one wishes to accomplish and not as an end in themselves.
Those who believe in utilitarianism can consider altruistic or noble lies, which specifically intend to benefit someone else as morally acceptable. While the above reasoning is logical, critics of utilitarianism claim that its practical application in decision-making is seriously flawed. People often poorly estimate the consequences of their actions or specifically undervalue or ignore the harmful consequences to society (e.g., mistrust) that their lies cause.

Even if a lie is used to benefit someone, we cannot undermine the value of trust among all those who learn of the deceits. As trust declines, cynicism spreads, and our overall quality of life drops. In addition, suggesting that people may lie in pursuit of the greater good can lead to a "slippery slope", where the line between cleverly calculated moral justifications and empty excuses for selfish behaviour is exceedingly thin.

Sliding down the slope eventually kindles morally bankrupt statements (e.g., "Stealing this man's money is okay because I will give some to charity.") Those who disagree with utilitarianism believe that there is potentially great cost in tolerating lies for vague or subjective reasons, including lies in honour of "the greater good".
Lies are morally wrong, then, for two reasons. First, lying corrupts the most important quality of being human: the ability to make free, rational choices.

Each lie told contradicts the part that gives us moral worth. Second, lies rob others of their freedom to choose rationally. When a lie leads people to decide otherwise than what they would have had they known the truth, it has harmed their human dignity and autonomy. Don't lie because it first kills you and believe me, things truly go well when you speak the truth.

Mukesh Setia is the founder director of A View To Education (AVTE), a educational institute in New Delhi. His first book Bansuri The Feelings was released in December 2004 the book was on courage and dreams

First Published: Oct 17, 2006 15:50 IST