The Importance of Truth
Updated: Jan 12
We inherently know that truth is better than its alternative, but we can easily ignore the reason why this is the case, apart from the obvious morality. It is my belief that truth is much more than simply virtuous – meaning for good. It is not enough to think of truth as virtuous alone - it needs to exist beyond the spectrum of good or bad and thought of as above morality. Truth must exist on a stratum of its own, both good and better than any measure of goodness. Truth must be protected so that it can be relied on. When seen only as good, the truth is easy to abandon when it is in conflict of something else that we also believe to be good. I do not believe that this is simply because we overvalue our own self-interests, beliefs and abilities to judge which is a greater good, but instead, I believe that we undervalue the importance of truth. I see the truth as an essential mechanism for sanity, peace and knowledge and the discarding of the truth as foolish and dangerous. The truth is an unwavering certainty of actuality and reality, even when we are not aware of it. There is a truth to what is at the bottom of the ocean, even if no human ever discovers it fully. Picture truth as a solid line full of things that happen and correct information. Everything else is an offshoot from that solid line. It is important to always tell and seek the truth because every lie, misunderstanding and misinterpretation is an offshoot from the truth, even if believed by all. A lie creates an alternative to the truth, in which some conflict is bound to arrive. When we believe something that is not true, the conflict will come with further discovery. For example, if everyone believed that the Earth was flat, the conflict arrives in discovering that it is round. All new information is greeted with some level of conflict, known as scepticism, but as long as you are willing to accept new information once proven to be true, you can easily solve this conflict. If you are not willing to accept new information, if you ignore evidence and if you are unwilling to change your mind, the conflict will no longer be within you but it will be between you and people that have accepted the new information. This is why we should always be seeking new information, or at least accepting it when it arrives. It is important to scrutinise new information before accepting it because there is a possibility that someone could be lying to you. Lies are an intentional form of creating an offshoot from the truth. Like being wrong unintentionally, lies will come with their own conflict but this conflict can be much more dangerous.
There are different types of lies, each carrying a different temptation to tell and each waiting to cause its own conflict. These types are;
1. The Virtuous Lie
2. The Defensive Lie
3. The Arrogant Lie
4. The Self-Progressing Lie
5. The Sinister Lie
The virtuous lie is a lie that you tell to make someone feel better. For example, if a friend asks me if I like a piece of art work that they created and I don’t, there is a temptation to lie in order to make that person feel good about themselves in that moment. If I thought of truth as simply a good thing, then I would be weighing up two good things and attempting to select the greater good. I must either forego the truth or the opportunity to make someone feel good, but because I see truth as much more important than that, I would try to tell the truth. This does not mean I always succeed, at times I give in to the temptation to lie, but I always regret it when I do. This lie, harmless as it seems, will create an offshoot from the truth and will lead to conflict. On this occasion, the conflict is likely to be born inside my mind because what I need to do here is create another version of myself that exists only in my mind. The other version does not do anything, but he must remain there and he must be accessible to me. In my mind, both versions of me exist because they are in my perception but in reality (Truth) only the real version of me exists. This fake version of me is exactly like the real me in every way except one; he likes that art work whereas I do not. I will only ever need him if I am talking about my friends art work again, yet he must stay there unless is admit to the truth and no longer need him. This does not seem like a huge burden but if a similar version of me would need to exist in my head for every time I pretend to like something to make someone feel good, it would take up so much of my brain space. This conflict can also expand outwards if my friend ever discovers that I was lying about liking their work. A quick personal story to make my point. A while ago I bought my partner a gift for Christmas. It was a coat, which is a strange shade of blue. I bought it because she wanted a coat that did not go past her waist, which this did not but I knew I was taking a risk with the colour. Christmas morning came and she unwrapped the coat. She took a moment to respond but eventually told me that she liked it. She is a kind, loving and selfless person but in this moment, she was lying to me. I knew it, she knew it and I even think she knew I knew it, but in that moment, she chose the virtue of making me feel good over the truth. In her head, there is a version of her that she needs to keep accessible all of the time, that is the exact same as the real person with the exception that they like this blue coat whereas the real version does not. We have fun with it because she will never admit to it. I point it out every time she wears the coat on a dog walk (not often) and she insists she likes it. This is her bringing out the other version that exists at the time that she needs it. The strange thing is, she has never once wore the coat when I was not with her because the real version of her would never wear it. I tell this story as an example of a harmless lie that was told with the best intent imaginable and also to remind her that she can kill that offshoot of herself at any time by admitting that she does not like the coat and I will not be offended in the slightest – I am not even sure I like the coat. White-lies seem harmless, but telling lots of them, even with good intentions can lead to problems, and not only in having to remember them. It is much easier to just be honest, so in a way telling the truth is important to me in a selfish way. There is more to it though, because some lies, even when meant as virtuous, can take up more brain space than pretending to like a piece of art or a coat. Perhaps you are pretending to be happy so you don’t burden someone or pretending to love somebody because you do not want to hurt them. Similar to the small lies, this is going to create offshoots of the real you but instead of having to keep them in the back of your mind, they need to be at the forefront constantly. Let’s look at the second example, of loving someone. If you tell someone you love them when you do not, which you might be doing to avoid hurting them, you are creating an offshoot of yourself that you need to constantly act in accordance with. Now because of a lie, in your everyday life you are doing things because that is what another version of you would be doing, but not the real you. You are attempting to act in a way that you would if you did in fact love that person. This is where it becomes dangerous. Even if you are lying for the good of someone else (which ultimately it is not), the things you are doing are in support of a character that you have created in your mind and not of the real you and that will lead to inner-conflict. You are also swindling the other person of the opportunity to make the best decision because they will base decisions on a lie and not the truth. This is manipulative. So even when you attempt to be virtuous in the lie, it turns out to be harmful. With lies that revolve around big parts of your life, it is almost impossible to find moments to act in accordance to the real version of who you are because it will inevitably lead to more conflict. Sticking with the example of pretending to love your partner, you have to act like that is true not only with them, but with everyone connected. If you were to say, pretend while you were with them but when you were with your friends you admitted the truth, how would you then act when your partner and your friends were together? Surely this would only enhance the conflict, unless you convinced your friend to partake in the lie with you and at this point you have abandoned any virtue that you had. The reality is that, there can be no virtue in lying, with the notable exception of dealing with children. You can tell them not to swallow gum and exaggerate the dangers and you can pretend that Santa Claus is real. I believe this is only okay with children because they are not able to protect themselves or understand the world or their own emotions in a way that adults can. Telling a virtuous lie to an adult is treating them like a child.
The defensive lie is one told to protect yourself or someone else from some version of harm. When you have a car accident involving another car, the unwritten rule is to never admit liability even when you know it is your fault. There are thousands of car accidents every year and, almost universally, the people involved will put their own self-interest above the truth. This particular defensive lie has a victim in the other driver but that is not always the case. A common defensive lie is when people pretend that they are happy so that you do not have to deal with the reason that you are unhappy. This may be a virtuous lie if done to protect others, but often it is a defensive lie because people do not want to admit they are struggling or in a depressive state of emotion. Even if there is no victim outside of the person telling this lie, it is still a lie and therefore creates an offshoot and conflict. Again, the liar must create an alternative version of themselves in their mind but this time, the alternative is much less like the real version. Instead of attempting to act like you would if you liked a piece of art, they are trying to act as if they would if they were happy – something that at the time feels alien and unachievable to them and that is why they are not genuinely happy. There are so many problems here. Firstly, if you do not admit to the problem it is highly likely that you will fail to solve it and this means you will extend the period of time that you spend feeling depressed and eventually this will start to feel normal for you. If feeling depressed becomes normal, it may be accepted that this is how you feel inside but you must portray the opposite. The initial feelings will then be exacerbated by the conflict that comes from trying to act like a happy version of yourself that does not actually exist at the time. One final difficulty that comes with this lie is the fact that by telling a lie, you are committing to it to some degree – it is much easier to be honest if you are honest from the beginning, but harder if you first lie and then later attempt to be honest. In this case it is difficult enough to admit that you are feeling depressed, without also having to admit that you have been dishonest at the same time. This often told lie, understandable as it is to tell, must be avoided at all costs because it is a minefield of inner-conflict and danger. The clear and obvious danger in lying about how happy you are seen in rising levels of suicide every year. A few years ago we seen the emergence of the slogan “it’s okay not to be okay”. At the time I took exception to the phrase and still do now because it can be interpreted in many different ways, and has been. Instead of removing the stigma around being sad so that people can admit to it and solve it, it has led to the notion that being in a state of ‘not okay’ or even depression is acceptable or unchangeable. It has led to ‘not okay’ being a constant state that people live in and the acceptance of this is even celebrated instead of solved because there has been a social push to accept it. I think the best version of that slogan would have been “stop pretending you are okay, it’s not helping you”. It might not sound so accepting, but I do not think sadness or depression should be accepted. It should be fought against with every fibre of us and that starts with avoiding having conflict within our own minds that comes with acting out a lie. There is no martyrdom in being the only victim of your own lie, as if that were even possible.
The arrogant lie is when people believe that there can be no information beyond what they already know, and therefore say something that is not true because they are not willing to accept that they could be wrong – claiming to be certain of something, when in reality you are not. An example – in the past I worked on a bar. I really enjoyed it and thought I knew everything I needed to know. One day I was asked for about four Mimosas, also known as Buck’s Fizz, which I knew was champagne and orange juice. This is not my type of drink at all but I was familiar with it because I had made many of them in the past. I said they were on the way and started making them. As I was pouring them, a colleague said that I was not using enough orange juice. I was affronted by this, because I had made so many of them and nobody had ever complained, besides I was certain that I was following the specification correctly – two parts champagne for one part orange juice. I served the drinks and nobody complained. Even when I went to collect the empty glasses to bring them back to the bar, I gave my colleague a knowing glance and pointed out the empty glasses and suggested that they obviously enjoyed their drinks. As you either know or have probably guessed, I was in fact wrong. A Mimosa and Buck’s Fizz are not the same drink, which I was forced to accept in embarrassing circumstances. They are similar, but different. I was making Buck’s Fizz. A Mimosa is equal parts champagne and orange juice, so my colleague was correct and I was in fact using too little orange juice. It was my arrogance that led me to committing to, what I now know was incorrect. I was not willing to accept that, what I thought I was certain of, I was not. I could not accept it because I was trying to give the impression that I knew everything I needed to know. In this case, the conflict exists between the person that is telling the arrogant lie and everyone that knows the truth. Thankfully, the conflict was easy to solve in my case, but that is not always true. In my case, the issue was not of great importance and the conflict was between myself and a friend, so was limited to them reminding me of it every time someone ordered either a Mimosa or Buck’s Fizz but we were lucky that we solved it quickly, otherwise the conflict would have been greater. If we did not resolve the issue immediately, I would have been teaching new bartenders the wrong method over time and the offshoot that I created would have been much larger, making any correction much more difficult. If arrogant lies are told about things that carry more importance, the offshoots can also be larger and create greater conflict. This type of lie also leads to the person placing higher stakes on the lie, because they think they are so certain of it. If someone attaches their career for instance to something that they think are certain of, even if they are forced to confront opposing evidence, it is hard to accept because it might mean the end of a chosen career. Look at politics for example, if someone stakes their political career on something which they later find out to be incorrect, admitting to this would likely end all political aspirations. I believe that this is a major contributor to why there is such a lack of confidence in politicians – because they stick to their “team’s” arguments long after logic and evidence has proven them to be wrong, all because at one point they claimed to be certain of something and don’t want to be seen backtracking. Politics in the UK is a two-party system where we have the Labour Party and Conservative Party claiming opposing sides of virtually every argument – both giving the impression of certainty. At least one of these has to be an arrogant lie, if not both. It would require a dedicated piece to outline my opinions on the problems with politics, but I believe that arrogant lies and the reluctance to admit being wrong carries a lot of blame. The best way to avoid telling arrogant lies is to be open to challenging all of your own beliefs with new information. I believe that I am certain that the Earth is round, owing to all of the evidence available, but if someone showed me compelling evidence that it was flat, I would reconsider my belief – I do not expect any compelling evidence, but if it arrives, I will consider it. I do however accept that this would be more difficult if my career or happiness required the Earth being round.
The self-progressing lie is one that is told to enhance people’s opinion of yourself or your own abilities. A lie on your CV to get a job, telling tall tales or exaggerating about the size of the fish you caught. These are all self-progressing lies. They are clearly offshoots from reality which at the very least require memorising if they are to be carried on. There is also likely to be conflict when the truth comes out between the liar and the person they lied to.
A sinister lie is a lie told to hurt someone. I do not really need to explain the conflict that comes with this or the reasons not to do it, but I will point out that this is an example of how the truth is morally good as well as being above morals. I once heard someone say the following, which I though was interesting and poetic enough to write down but cannot remember who said it;
You have the truth. That is all you have. You get away with nothing. You can twist the fabric of reality for a while, but the truth sits there on the couch with a fedora and a cigar, saying “When you are done with this parade, I will be here. Take your time, but, I will be here waiting. "
This is how I think about the truth. It never goes anywhere and if we try to, or even accidentally, create offshoots from it, the truth is still not going anywhere. It is us that is moving. We are moving further from reality, from that solid straight line that is Truth and the further we are from that line the more we disagree, the more we are confused, the more we are alone and the more we are afraid. The offshoots are going in different directions and are angled at varying degrees off the truth. The end point of each individual offshoot will be so far away from any other end point. Right now, it seems like different groups are congregating on and around these various offshoots and acting tribally towards each other. It sometimes feels like the people congregating around the truth are the smallest group of all and that is worrying, but perhaps it is not the smallest group and it only seems that way because they are the quietest because they are at peace. I hope this is the case and I think it is, but I will not be arrogant and claim this as certainty. All you or I can do is stick as close as we possibly can to the truth and enjoy the people that are there with us.
Thank you for reading. I welcome feedback and further conversation on the topic. You can reach out to me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org