One of my aunts has been dieting for the past four months. Desperate to know if it’s working, she asked a bunch of us if she had lost any weight. One of my cousins promptly said, “Yes auntie, in fact, I didn’t ask earlier as I thought it would be impertinent,” she quipped with a butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth smile. I, on the other hand, kept quiet because I am one of those blessed (read cursed) people who cannot lie convincingly. Auntie wanted to know everyone’s comment on her newly trimmed (in her opinion) self and turned her eyes on me. I stuttered, aware of my sister’s glare, “um … I don’t know … I guess you have lost some weight but … ah … I wouldn’t know … you see … I am very bad at… um … you know … noticing things.” Needless to say that she was not happy with my answer and I had to endure a long lecture from my sister on my lack of social graces. It’s not that I am an insensitive fool or have a mean disposition; my problem is much more complex — I can’t lie.
Lies come in many shapes and guises, from the classic little white ones to the colossal desecration of truth we all endure at the hands of politicians (remember Zia-ul-Haq’s pledge of election within 90 days). There are lies based on kindness — on wanting to spare someone else’s feelings, and other lies, less noble, based on wanting to spare one’s own feelings. Then, there are lies one tells oneself to justify bad decisions or bad behaviour; there are manipulative lies told to gain unfair advantage and lies told under oath about which a certain Mr Clinton knows of. Just as there are various types of lies, there are different attitudes towards lying. Some people take great pride in lying well, while the puritanical types run a mile if asked to lie.
We all lie, for expediency, by choice, by accident or by default. Lying might be a relentlessly necessary part of our world and time may have expanded our appreciation of inventiveness, creativity, and cunningness, while undermining some of our more simplistic assumptions about truth but it is always easier to tell the truth. Lies may be part and parcel of living in the natural world, but so are gangsters, floods and malaria. Simply because something is natural doesn’t always mean it’s a good thing. There are other beings who find it easier to be truthful. A friend once asked me if he was losing hair and I instantly said, “at the rate you are losing them, you might as well check out the hair care clinics for any treatment.” After all there are limits to the obligation of friendship. As a result, he didn’t speak to me for three days afterwards. So if you happen to pass me by, don’t ask if you look fat in the dress you are wearing. I might say yes.