How important is honesty? When is it okay to fudge on the truth? If the main point is valid, how necessary is it to keep all of the details straight?
I just read a bizarre story that got me thinking about this subject. A director of Senior Services in Rhode Island wanted to promote snow removal assistance for the elderly, and couldn’t rustle up a suitable “Cranston Senior Home Resident” to be featured during a news report.
So, she did the next best thing. She manufactured one.
The only apparent flaw in her plan was forgetting that such facilities also have male residents. So, the bus driver she pressed into the role had to don a wig, makeup and earrings. (Perhaps she just thought that an elderly female would elicit greater sympathy.
At any rate, her nefarious plot was revealed when local television viewers did not fall for the questionable disguise. The coup de grâce, or the punch line as you may read it, came in the pronouncement of the salon owner who prepped the man for his debut.
“I probably would have given him a better wig if I had known.”
You see, the problem wasn’t the misrepresentation. The error was in not doing it persuasively.
I suppose this odd story struck me as timely (even though it apparently occurred this past winter) because we in the United States are currently suffering in the midst of a lengthy presidential primary season. (No comments, please, on whether any of the candidates might benefit from wearing “a better wig.”)
C.S. Lewis & the Subject of Deception
C.S. Lewis thought a great deal about the subjects of truth, and deception. For much of his life, well into adulthood, he was deceived by sirens who denied the reality of a loving God.
One of his accurate observations is that deception must be reasonable to be successful.
Nothing can deceive unless it bears a plausible resemblance to reality. (“An Experiment in Criticism”)
Obviously, the incident above did not pass the plausibility standard.
In the same essay, Lewis declared scenarios that represent imaginary realities as being innocent of deception.
No one can deceive you unless he makes you think he is telling the truth. The un-blushingly romantic has far less power to deceive than the apparently realistic. Admitted fantasy is precisely the kind of literature which never deceives at all. Children are not deceived by fairy-tales; they are often and gravely deceived by school-stories. Adults are not deceived by science-fiction; they can be deceived by the stories in the women’s magazines. (“An Experiment in Criticism”).
We would be inclined today to add “men’s magazines” as an equally disingenuous source. I believe Lewis was referring to the kind of story that manipulates one’s emotions and exaggerates reality to provoke the desired response.
Self-Deception as a Danger
As a Christian, Lewis reflected in great depth on how prone you and I are to deceiving ourselves. Some of this self-deception is not intentional. In correspondence with an American acquaintance he discussed Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou.
What I had not yet thought about was your objection, that he ignores the Me. You are probably right. He might even have said that just as the Thou is deeper than the Me, so the I is deeper than the Me. For I believe self consciousness to be full of deception and that the object I call me and think about (both in my moments of pride and in my moments of humility) is very different from the I who think about it.
I agree with Lewis that we are often unaware of aspects of our own personality. And, unfortunately, we are prone to misperceiving what we do observe. This is not a conscious twisting of the truth to our own benefit, as in proclaiming that we are exceptional and never fail.
This raises the question of our self-awareness. The Johari Window is a simple resource that illustrates the four aspects of our identity, based on two axes—what is known/unknown and by whom the traits are recognized.
You can see how it works out in this simple diagram. And you can read a brief description of the tool here.
It seems evident that one key to living with integrity and enjoying greater happiness is to be honest in all of our dealings. Honest with others. And honest with ourselves.
It was good to be reminded once again of that vital truth.
Here’s a piece of Lewisian trivia. The collection of essays available in the United States as God in the Dock was originally published in the United Kingdom with the title Undeceptions. Ironically, the British reference in the American version of the title still creates confusion for those who don’t realize “in the dock” refers to a person who is on trial.