Chapter XVI Some Causes Of Lying

Malicious Lies.––Scrupulosity, rash generalisation, exaggeration, amusing representation, are, as it were, the light skirmishers which assault the defences of the fortress of Truth as chance offers; but there are also the sappers and miners who dig under its foundations, and these ask for our more serious attention. There are, as we have seen, Malice and Envy, which lead to Calumny; and of all lies none are more hateful than those told to lower another in the esteem of his friends. The law of the land steps in to save our reputation from hurt, as it does to save us from bodily harm, but many hurtful words may be lightly spoken without fear of the law against libel.

Cowardly Lies.––Cowardice, again, makes for Falsehood. We have done or said a thing that we are made ashamed of, and our first impulse is to deny it. We didn't drop the match which caused the fire, or forget to write the note which politeness required, or say the thing which offended Mrs. Foster. The lie is the refuge of the coward when he is found out in a fault. But let us rally our forces and own up; our friends love us the better, in spite of our fault, if we will only say we have done it; they like our courage and honour us for remembering that "all liars are an abomination unto the Lord."

     "Dare to be true. Nothing can need a lie;
     A fault which needs it most grows two thereby."

The Falsehood of Reserve.––Akin to the lie of Concealment is the habit of Reserve, which, though it does not tell a lie, fails to tell the truth. 'Where have you been to-day?' 'Oh! I went for a walk in the direction of Milton.' We have really been to the town and bought chocolate or shopped, let us say. Frank speech would have made all plain, and to be frank about our little affairs is of the nature of Truth, and is a duty we owe to the people we live with. As a matter of fact, most people know when a lie is being told them, or when something is being held back.

Boasting Lies.–– Vain persons tell boasting lies; they think their friends will value them the more for what they have got or for the things they have seen or done, or for the fine people they know. Like all lying, this is foolish as well as wicked. If we gain, by boastful lies, the friendship of the foolish and the vain; that very friendship is an injury to our own character, and it is only the vain and foolish that we can deceive; good and sensible people are quite up to us, and the more we boast the less they think of us.

Romancing Lies.––There are people who live so constantly in castles in Spain of their own building that they romance in their talk. They will tell you they have been here and there, have talked with this and that grand person, or perhaps that they have been kidnapped and left on a desert island, or that they are not really the children of their parents, but changelings, the sons and daughters of a duke or of a rag- picker. This manner of lying comes of a very dangerous habit of mind. When people cannot discern between fact and fancy, and mix the two in their talk, they are gradually losing the use of their Reason, and are qualifying themselves to end in a madhouse. We may not allow ourselves to say things of which Reason and Conscience do not approve.

Lies for Friendship's Sake.––It is not easy to speak the truth when to do so will get a friend into trouble. 'Did you leave the gate open?' 'No.' 'Did Tom?' You know that Tom did, and that it is his fault that the sheep have eaten the carnations. What are you to say? No decent boy could own up another's fault, but neither may he tell a lie to screen his friend at his own expense. But if you say, 'Tom is my friend, I cannot tell of what he does or does not do,' most likely no more questions will be asked. One more caution: 'All's fair in love and war' is made to cover many lies. People think they must speak the truth on their own side, but a lie is good enough for their opponents. They forget that a lie is a two-edged sword, injuring those who speak more than those who hear, and that no one can wear 'the white flower of a blameless life' who is not known to friend and foe alike as one whose word is to be trusted.

Magna est Veritas (Truth is Great).––Let us take courage: Truth, the handmaid of justice, is a beautiful presence in every Mansoul, and with her are her attendant group, Veracity; Simplicity, whose part it is to secure that every spoken word means just what it appears to mean, and nothing more and nothing less: Sincerity, which secures that word of mouth tallies exactly with thought of heart, that we say exactly what we think: Fidelity, which makes us faithful to every promise at any cost––always excepting such promises as should never have been made; the only honourable thing that we can do is to break a promise which is wrong in itself. It is true that the Dæmons of the qualities are there also––Duplicity, with hints and innuendoes and double meanings; Deceit, trying to trip up Sincerity and pour out words of congratulation, sympathy, kindness, from the teeth outwards; Perfidiousness, which breaks through faith and makes promises of none effect. But, again, let us take courage; these are the aliens to be routed by every valiant Mansoul:

          Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit. (Truth is great and will prevail)