Reader Request Week 2012 #2: Would I Lie to You?
The next Reader Request question, from Brian H., in e-mail, who asks:
Do you lie? Do you lie often? Do you regret lying?
The answers: Yes of course; define “often”; no, not usually.
The “yes, of course,” is because everyone lies and I don’t pretend I’m the exception to the rule. The “define ‘often'” answer is because I have no idea what qualifies as “often.” If it’s once an hour, then no. Once a day, possibly. Once a week: Hell, yes. The “no, not usually” is because generally if I’m lying to someone, it’s because I decided it was the appropriate thing to do in that situation — the best course of action in that circumstance — and I don’t generally regret doing what I think is necessary.
And you may say: When might I find it necessary to lie to someone? Well, as examples:
1. If I’ve been asked to keep something in confidence and you ask me about it, I will lie to you.
2. If you ask me a personal question and I don’t feel that I know you and/or trust you and/or like you and/or your discretion is not reliable and/or any other particular reason that disinclines me to answer the question truthfully, I will lie to you.
3. If I know something I don’t think it’s useful for you to know, and you ask me about it, I will lie to you.
4. If you knowing something will make you and/or me deeply unhappy for what I consider not worthwhile reasons, and you ask me about it, I will lie to you.
And so on; these are just four obvious examples.
Bear in mind that I don’t generally lie for the sake of lying. That’s really stupid, and I’m not that good of a liar. Most things aren’t worth lying about, and as a rule I do try to live my life in a manner so that lying isn’t something I have to do a lot of. Life is simpler that way. And in particular I think generally speaking you’re a fool if you lie to your spouse on a regular basis. I lied to Krissy once in our relationship — it had to do with flowers I sent to her on her birthday — and she knew it immediately and mocked me mercilessly (though not unkindly) for it. On the basis of that I decided that there would be no advantage whatsoever in lying to her about anything else, particularly things she would actually get pissed about. This is a practical decision which has served me well for many years. Likewise, I try not to lie to my kid. Everyone else is subject to being lied to if necessary.
But of course that’s the other thing: It’s usually not necessary. Let me give you an example. A month ago, while I was at Boskone, my father-in-law died, which necessitated me leaving the convention earlier than I had been scheduled to. While I told the con committee about what happened, what I really didn’t want was for it to become general knowledge. The last thing I needed, from a keeping-my-shit-together-emotionally point of view, was an entire convention of people offering condolences and hugs and stories about their own similar situations. So I didn’t talk about it and asked the con committee not to talk about it, and so aside from a very few people, I didn’t have to talk about it. If someone who wasn’t a friend has asked me why I was leaving early, I would have lied to them about it in the most innocuous way possible (probably something along the lines of “my flights got rearranged,” which was technically true because I rearranged them). But it wasn’t necessary because people didn’t know. Thus is illustrated the power of simply keeping quiet.
(Also illustrated: the fact that not every lie needs be malicious, or designed to keep people from knowing unseemly things. I have no doubt whatsoever that the good folks at Boskone, had they known, would have been sympathetic and supportive and caring, and I appreciate what they would have been trying to be and do for me. But the thing is that I was both extremely upset at Mike’s passing and that I was not at home for my wife when her father died, or for my daughter when her grandfather passed away. I was not in the right place, emotionally or geographically, for the sympathy of others at that moment. Lying in that case would have kept me from losing it, in more than one way.)
As a general rule I don’t recommend lying, since it often complicates life and hurts people and makes one look like an ass. But as you can see I don’t believe it’s always an evil, either. It has its time and place, and for me it’s a recognition that I’m not required to share every single thing that goes on in my life with every single person. That’s perfectly fine, and I don’t have a problem editing the public presentation of my life in that way.
So, yes: I lie, and generally do not regret doing so. But generally speaking I do try not to. And that’s the truth.
(It’s not too late to get questions in for this year’s Reader Request Week — add yours here).