I am a male, 19 years old and a sophomore in college. I was born in Cairo, Egypt and have lived the majority of my life in quaint Apple Valley, Minnesota. I have two brothers, one older, one younger. I read, I write, I study math and science. And on college and job applications I am occasionally African-American.
I mean, technically, I was born on the continent of Africa. And while ethnography dictates that those who hail from the Middle East are, indeed, “Caucasian,” that fact weakens my chance of being a diverse public asset. Being a minority, which is how I view myself, is my tiny way of correcting what I perceive to be a flaw in the system I live in. It’s a little white lie, really, but I promise I’m capable of much more. When it is convenient, when it serves my purposes and that of those I care about, I have no problem being “fake.” It’s not just me, either. I do it but so does everyone else, and every man-made institution (business, finance, politics, sports, art, education) thrives on the wholesale of untruths.
The idea of “phony” or “fake” is not a new one. In fact, its origins can likely be traced back to man’s very first breath. And it’s not confined to one area or a type of interaction, either. No, it is much more ubiquitous—from our carefully crafted pictures and posts on social media to the feigned ignorance of substance abuse in professional sports to the different masks we don at work versus at home versus with our friends.
We self-deceive as well. It is lying nirvana, if you will, the point at which a lie becomes so well-crafted and deeply imbedded in one’s person that self-awareness vanishes. We lie to ourselves about how many calories we consumed today or how often we go the gym or our feelings towards someone that we don’t want to address.
Lying is easily one of the most objectively egregious moral “wrongs” one can commit—that is, it’s easy to call someone on their lying and to, when asked, say readily that you disapprove.
To that end, I have, in the last few years of my young life, noticed a trend among my peers. The more that individuals find awareness, the more intelligent and informed they become about the inner-workings of the business, politics, and relationships, the more they begin to resent society for what they perceive to be a moral bankruptcy. These issues lie almost entirely with the perceived callousness with which people treat their interactions, not with honesty but with convenience. There forms a sort of restless paranoia which famously plagued Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye and Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. It begins as a sadness which hardens into depression which prompts a phase of defiance and, ultimately, rests into reluctant indifference and melancholy.
However, studies have found that those adolescents who are most popular among their peers are those who are best at deception. Moreover, that those who are depressed are more honest with themselves than mentally healthy people. When people overcome depression, they become less honest with themselves. As psychologist Shelley Taylor states, positive illusions are “the fuel that drives creativity, motivation and high aspirations.” They are what motivate us to achieve more, to project ourselves toward our goals. Yet lying is wrong, right?
And there lies the issue. It is the reason there will always be a dissonance between conscientious, intelligent people and “society.” Because branding a false image of yourself is so ultimately effective that the world has no choice but to function on a system that relies on it… leaving self-aware, self-conscious people to ponder endlessly and existentially why the world “is so messed up.” Yet we lie, we self-brand, we deceive every single day. It’s a part of what makes successful people successful and, for those who become unable to do it effectively or to judiciously decide when it is being employed for and against them, what weakens the hope and resolve of the unfortunate.
We say we want honesty and nothing else, but that, in itself, is a lie. Nobody wants 100% honesty all the time. It’s exhausting—and pretending that we do only makes us more dissatisfied and unhappy.
This excess of untruths is precisely why in modern society being “genuine” is held in such high virtue. Perhaps it’s time the idea of “deception” takes an off-road into that same realm of honor. As long as it continues to be utilized by every person and yet we continue to outwardly object to it, to claim that those who do it are wrong and corrupt, there will always be a deep social imbalance. Now, most difficult conflicts don’t have tidy endings or resolutions. But perhaps this particular fight, that which is between genuineness and deception, can begin to wane as we realize that life requires a balance of the two forces. A life lived free from the shackles of impenetrable honesty may very well be the most harmonious.
Unabashed honesty is, frankly, for children. It is what we are taught is vital to being a good person at a young age and it is what produces the jadedness of young adults as they are slowly surrounded by real burden and responsibility. Becoming okay with blatant, overwhelming dishonesty isn’t the answer either. But perhaps if we can learn that lying, being untruthful is natural and human, then we won’t feel the need to do it when things matter most. That is, changing our attitude and our discourse around lying can make the truth a more beautiful, sacred thing—not a source of guilt or a law to be broken.
So, we live in a world of liars. But that’s okay. Because when we begin to address that, we tear at the heart of the biggest lie of all: that the truth is all that is good.
Carey, Benedict. “I’m Not Lying, I’m Telling a Future Truth. Really.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 05 May 2008. Web.
Leong, Melissa. “The Truth about Lying: It’s Good for You, Trust Us.” National Post, 24 June 2011. Web.
Holliday, Dan. “When Is Lying Good?” Slate Magazine, 08 Feb. 2013. Web.
Boser, Ulrich. “We’re All Lying Liars: Why People Tell Lies, and Why White Lies Can Be OK.” US News. U.S. News & World Report, 18 May 2009. Web.