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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 25 June 2024

Let truth triumph

Reasons for lying are many; the most common being — ‘everyone does it’. Lying to protect a friend is loyalty and lying to parents or teachers is avoiding unnecessary trouble

Devi Kar Published 09.04.24, 06:55 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo.

Seeking the truth, on one level, may simply mean finding out for oneself. Alas, we do not encourage this enough in our schools. However, this piece is about being truthful.

Most people would accept that we are a lying society. In a post-truth world, we live comfortably with alternative facts, fake news and ‘deep fake’, along with the white and ‘therapeutic’ lies that have always existed. But the truth, no matter how complex it is and no matter how it is defined by scholars and philosophers, has a rock-like quality to it. There can be nothing casual or light about truth. I believe that in these lying times, we must, deliberately and consciously, teach children to tell the truth at all times — irrespective of how inconvenient it is to do so.

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Psychological studies have established that lying is more prevalent where co­r­ruption is rampant, rule­-bre­aking is a daily occurren­ce and political leaders are expected to lie. Unless lying adults mend their ways and parents decide to bring up their children to tell the truth and refrain from lying themselves, we will continue to live in a lying society.

Teachers must consciously teach children to be truthful — just as they teach them critical and creative thinking. My sentiments have always resonated with Friedrich Nietzsche’s statement, “I am not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you” — except, of course, when small children’s imaginations run wild.

Once, a friend who prided herself on her well-preserved good looks, asked her granddaughter how she was looking. The blunt answer was, “You are looking old.” When my offended friend reprimanded the little girl, she protested vehemently. “But thamma, you taught me to tell the truth!” she retorted indignantly. My friend admitted later that she did not know how to deal with the situation. Indeed, it is a tricky business to guide children to be socially pleasant and yet be truthful. The artificial flattery that we observe around us makes it difficult to accept any compliment at face value. We should understand that what is said behind our backs is a different story and let us not forget Oscar Wilde’s shrewd remark that what is said behind your back is usually true. I wonder why we should pay insincere compliments just to please people. There are umpteen ways in which one can appreciate a person truthfully.

We can make out that lying is the norm today because children and adults expect to be exempted from disciplinary measures just because they have spoken the truth. A parent exclaims, “Imagine, my child was scolded even after she owned up!” “Why are my marks being deducted when I have admitted that I tampered with my report card?” questions a student. They do not understand that consequences of misdemeanours must be faced and telling the truth cannot absolve one of that.

At the risk of sounding overly righteous, I think that schools should be careful when setting debate topics. My colleagues could barely contain their amusement when I expressed my disapproval of the topic of a school debate, “Honesty is not the best policy.” Here, we are actually encouraging youngsters to argue against being honest. Undeniably, there are deep questions as to whether it was acceptable to tell a lie to save a life or protect an innocent person from evil people in power. But surely a policy cannot be shaped on the basis of dishonesty. School fests have competitions on the best way to lie your way out of sticky situations, or the most creative explanations for absence from school. The craft of telling lies must never be rewarded — not even in jest. Imagination can be developed in other ways.

Reasons for lying are many; the most common being — ‘everyone does it’. Lying to protect a friend is loyalty and lying to parents or teachers is avoiding unnecessary trouble. If parents keep lying in their children’s presence, they should not be surprised if their offspring become proficient in the skill themselves.

George Orwell’s statement thus rings truer than ever today: “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” It is high time we contributed to a widespread revolution.

Devi Kar is director, Modern High School for Girls, Calcutta

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