What is man but a fragment of the universe? Yet, we have pitted our puny selves against the infinite silence of space and dared to disturb the Moon, Mars and Saturn. Though taking a flight is now far more common than it used to be 40 years ago, I’m unfailingly impressed by our technological triumph every time I’m strapped down in a slender cigarillo of metal and glass as it roars down the runaway before it lifts off, carrying hundreds of passengers and their luggage.
Consider our skills and deft manipulation of our external environment! We drill through mountains, make deserts bloom and get drinking water from the sea. School texts beautifully illustrate our watery planet protected by small hands and fingers reminding children that we literally hold the planet in our hands. Is it not wondrous that the components that make up every single item that has smoothed our lives — from a wooden cot to a tube of toothpaste to a pair of scissors — has emerged from the great cornucopia that is Earth? From the humble grass that feeds our cattle to the materials needed to carry out intricate surgeries and help us communicate with people thousands of miles away? One only needs to read a novel set in the 18th century or the logbook of a ship’s captain of that time to learn that not so long ago, it took six months to get a message across to another country or to the origin of contact of a ship as it sailed the vast oceans.
All these images crossed my mind as I thought of our complex relationship with the truth. Why would such a successful species want to hide behind falsehood? Last year, in a class, the teacher pointed out the damage falsehood inflicts on one’s physical and emotional health. “They are incalculable,” he said, drawing our attention to the lie-detector or polygraph. The slightest resistance from the brain to the truth/lie challenge sets the machine leaping. So think how seriously a lie (even a social fib meant to enhance our personal status) can affect one’s long-term health. A chart prepared by Ryan Morris and Shelley Sperry for an article in National Geographic Magazine shows a wide pattern of lies and how not all lies are the same.
Personal transgressions to cover up a mistake or misdeed (22%)
For economical advantage and financial gain (16%)
To avoid a tough situation or escape from people or to evade them (14%)
Personal advantage for different sorts of benefits (15%)
For our own self-image (8%)
To make people laugh (5%)
To help others (5%)
For the sake of politeness (2%)
To hurt others (4%)
To disregard reality, to fantasize ( 2%)
When the motives are unclear even to the one who lies (7%)
Most psychologists say that the truth comes naturally to everyone and that it takes a clever and flexible mind to lie consistently.
What about the half-truth? “Yes, he did borrow from me.” That the borrower returned what he took might be suppressed in the telling. The problem with this is that the teller often forgets where he put the other half of the truth.
When honesty is not only the best policy but also the best sleeping pill, why are we ruining our inner environment the way we have the external?
The author is series editor, Living in Harmony (Oxford University Press, India). firstname.lastname@example.org