The Unvarnished Truth by Alan Decker

The Unvarnished Truth

You’re a liar.

Don’t get too upset about it, though.  Every other person on the planet is as well.  It’s such an inherent part of human nature that I probably don’t need to go through all of the reasons we lie.  I will hit some of the big ones, though.  We lie to get what we want.  We lie to make ourselves look better to others.  We lie to hide the fact that we’ve done something wrong. 

And then there’s the big one.  The reason we lie almost every single day.

We lie to save civilization as we know it.

You may think that I’m overstating things, but I’m not sure that I am.  If I’m out shopping and the clerk asks me how I am doing, I will invariably say, “Just fine. And yourself?”  It doesn’t matter what is actually going on in my life.  I could be having the worst day ever, but I will plaster a smile on my face and lie about how everything is just peachy keen.  Why do I do this?

Well, just imagine if I didn’t tell this little lie.  Imagine if none of us told these little lies.  Imagine if in every interaction you had with every single person you encountered in your life, you told the absolute truth about how you were feeling, what you thought about the other person, and so on.

As shown by the Jim Carrey classic, “Liar, Liar” (“Are you really going to call the movie a classic?”  Yes.  “Why?  I mean it’s okay, but…”  What is the subject of this post?   “Ohhhh.  Sorry.  Carry on.”  Thank you.  Now as I was saying…), telling the truth all of the time just leads to trouble.  And that movie only had one man afflicted with the inability to lie.  Sticking to pop culture for a moment, there is an episode of “Gilligan’s Island” where the castaways all eat a seed or berry (it’s been a loooong time) that allows them to read each other’s minds leading to anger and hurt feelings as they each learned what was going on in the heads of the others. 

If that kind of truth almost tore apart those seven stranded castaways, just think what it would do if unleashed on the world at large.  The results would be catastrophic.  Sure, maybe you’re best friend can ask you, “What the hell happened to your hair?”  But do you want to hear that question from the barista at Starbucks?  I don’t think so.  He may be thinking it, but he doesn’t say it aloud.  We hold those things inside, and, when asked about them, we lie because that it what keeps civilization functioning.   Yes, it’s a façade, but a necessary one.

The thin veneer of falsehood that protects us in our face-to-face interactions doesn’t seem to be making the transition to our online lives nearly as well, though.  I’m nowhere near the first person to note that the comments section after any Youtube video, news article on Yahoo, or post on a forum is filled with people ready and willing to tell the world how much they hated the item in question and that anyone who disagrees is obviously a moron or worse.  Maybe those are their true feelings, but I have to believe that in most of these cases that it’s laced with a large amount of hyperbole.  At least I hope so.  It’s scary to think that there’s really that much seething rage and contempt simmering just below the surface of the people I interact with on a daily bases.  For all I know that smiling woman working the cash register at the grocery store might go home and tell an aspiring singer on Youtube that he’s the worst thing ever and that he should have his vocal cords removed before anyone else has their eardrums assaulted.

As much as the “I’m going to attack things I don’t like with as much venom and bile as possible,” bothers me, I’m in some ways even more disturbed by the oversharing kind of truth that online interactions seem to inspire.  I'm "friends" on Facebook with a lot of people that I barely know in real life. Maybe they're former schoolmates, friends of friends, or just people who are aware of my existence because we happen to work for the same organization. In many cases, calling them acquaintances is overly generous. Yet, thanks to Facebook, I know the details of their political views (and in some cases their religious views). Religion and politics used to be two topics to avoid in conversations with people you didn't really know. Now that's fallen by the wayside as we broadcast these things to veritable strangers. I'm certainly not saying that free expression is bad or that people shouldn't advocate for the causes that are important to them. But I do wonder how knowing this much about acquaintances will affect our real life interactions. Maybe it won't. Maybe we'll actually become more tolerant to opposing views. Or maybe we'll cut off possible friendships before they even start because we already know a particular person isn't like us. I'm ashamed to admit that I’ve been tempted a couple of times to unfriend people who posted things I seriously didn't agree with. I'm glad I didn't. But I'm still not sure how I feel about knowing this much about a person I'm connected to because we happened to spend a couple of years at the same school when we were kids.

So I say to you, dear friends, this has to stop.  It has to stop before the kinds of behavior we see online starts seeping into our offline world more than it already has.  In short, we need to lie more.  Hateful grocery cashier, don’t slam that singer.  He’s was trying his best.  Be encouraging, or, better yet, remember that old adage that has served humanity well for ages: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.  Likewise, store clerk, I promise that when you ask how I’m doing today, I will continue to say “Fine” rather than actually tell you about the troubles in my life.

I will lie, and in doing so, I will save the world.

- Alan Decker