A friend recently shared a BBC article with me on ‘paltering’ which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means to:
“Equivocate or prevaricate in action or speech.”
Or, as we might say, to:
“avoid answering the question that has been asked.”
Is this, in effect, lying?
And why do we do it?
In the UK the oath we take in a court of law includes undertaking to:
“tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”
“The whole truth” – that could be a whole lot, couldn’t it? Maybe that’s why we leave bits out.
Politicians do this – and you’ve probably come across it in business and other aspects of life, too.
What about family and friends?
Is leaving bits out or avoiding the question the same as lying?
Or is it half way between lying and the truth?
Do we even think about it as we do it, or has it become some form of automated response?
Do we forgive ourselves ‘white lies’, half-truths or incomplete truths but struggle to forgive other people theirs?
Maybe we do it for ‘them’ because:
- the truth might be hurtful
- they don’t need to hear it
- we are being kind rather than right
- for some reason (legal or ethical, perhaps) we’re not permitted to answer truthfully
Maybe it serves us because we:
- can’t bring ourselves to say the words out loud – maybe we never have
- don’t want to admit the truth to ‘them’
- don’t want to admit the truth to ourselves
- think we’ll get into trouble if we admit the truth
- think this means we’re not actually telling a lie, so it sits better with our conscience
- don’t want to show off – so it’s a form of false modesty
But maybe it’s OK if it’s us doing it because we know our motives are good?
If we were Pinnocchio, would our nose grow as we said whatever it is?
Do we even notice when we do it – or has it become just a part of how we operate these days in our ‘post truth‘, ‘fake news’ world?
This last point, I think, is possibly the most important and it comes back to being mindful of what we’re doing.
If we can notice what we’re doing and think about our motives, then at least we won’t be telling lies or half-truths on autopilot – when we do, if we choose to, at least it will be on purpose, conscious, and we’ll know why.