It’s amazing how easy it is to lie to those around us. Lying is generally regarded as a major moral failing, and we would all like to think of ourselves as good people, so we convince ourselves of our virtue despite the fact that we constantly dissemble and misrepresent. As more than a few people have observed, true honesty is not socially acceptable.
I’m not thinking of of major untruths: the slandering of a rival, the concealment of one’s criminal actions. Nor the petty viciousness a child might direct towards a sibling, or the way a gossip may massage facts to inflate their own importance (Twitter’s own version, perhaps, being reposting without attribution). On the flip side, I equally don’t mean white lies proper, where one acts to protect from genuine harm, or shame.
No, the vast majority of the lies we tell are simply social lubricant. A colleague asks after our health and we unthinkingly reply that we are well. Or we avoid making a perfectly justifiable complaint in a restaurant in order not to make a scene. Conversely one might pretend relative indifference to a topic of great personal interest, as we know that interest is not shared by others present. As a Brit, I have been trained to take part in the great ironical game where a phrase like ‘mustn’t grumble’, which clearly is grumbling in itself, is used to suggest that everything is fine, regardless of whether or not this is the case in fact. And none of this is to suggest that this is a bad thing. If whenever one spoke on a matter, one felt obliged to point out every single little dissatisfaction, or to trumpet one’s delight, we’d probably spend most (or more, at least) of our time wishing everybody would shut up for a bleedin’ minute.
Although there is clearly a vast gulf between the way we would like to see ourselves, and how we actually are, there is at least one matter those who sing the gospel of probity have got right: small lies soon become bigger ones, and the few easily multiply. Or at least this happens if we are not vigilant. If we unthinkingly lie about the insignificant things, at some point we’ll slip and do the same about things that really matter, that require the truth. As the title might have suggested, I’m thinking of when we say that we’re ok, but really are not.
Now I don’t want to come across as if I’m painting myself as a paragon, but I’d like to think that I’m particularly good at this. While I hardly led a childhood of deprivation, I lost my mother at a young age, and yet I never complained. When I say this, I don’t mean I never objected to anything, or protested about my treatment, just that I never stopped and said anything like, ‘I’m eight years old, and I’ve just had one of the most important people in my life taken from me. I shouldn’t have to deal with this, and I’d like some fucking help, right now.’ It seems rather funny writing like this about my past self, because I really don’t remember it like it happened to me. I’m not sure how everyone else looks back on their childhood, but for me it’s more like recalling the elements of a story someone else once told than sorting through my own more recent memories. Anyway, I digress.
It’s possible that my particular case is exacerbated by my Britishness, middle-class background, or my being male. I’ve certainly seen mention of the latter in regard to the poor record of men presenting themselves to a doctor when sick. But it seems rather odd to generalise this way as I don’t see our public spaces flooded with women bewailing their many misfortunes. Well, I don’t – some people seem unable to distinguish between the legitimate airing of political grievance, and ‘moaning’. There may be minor differences in the extent, but everybody does it, at least most of the time. And this may not always be healthy.
I’ll wrap up with the idea that this was just a very long-winded way of saying ‘I’m not ok’. But I’m kind of ok with that.
Maybe I have made an error in assuming that everybody lies. If you feel that I have misrepresented you, I apologise. I’d say that I admire you but, in an uncharacteristic moment of truthfulness, I’ll admit that I don’t. Honesty has its place, but it can also be brutal, hurtful, and even malicious. I might like to be more honest, but totally? I think not. I’d rather get on with those around me.