White lies: the cost of impressing friends

Gary Wang

We (present company definitely included) have created a special category between false statements that matter and those that don’t. We automatically exhale our “White Lies” like smoke from cigarettes.

So what constitutes a “White Lie” then? Usually, it’s something harmless, something trivial that makes us more interesting or helps us get what we want. Drinking a fifth instead of just a six-pack. Having a six-pack instead of only two when you suck your stomach in. And any embellished high school detail works wonders. No one will fact-check.

Just fit your past to what you want to be in the present, especially if someday you want to be president.

What’s the opposite of a “White Lie” then? Plagiarism? Tax evasion? On the one hand, there are lies that will be punished by institutions. On the other hand, there are lies that don’t just go unpunished but go undetected. A good storyteller makes for interesting conversation.

Naturally, once it’s okay to lie about the details then the truth, comprised of those details, becomes compromised. So far nothing new; mom and dad have said all this.

However, are we exempt from the deception of our own lies?

After all, if there is a self behind our eyes and in our hearts, then is it stable? That little voice, which used to be called our conscience or our genius, is who we really are. Right? It’s the origin of intuition and the part of us that’s authentic, unaffected by layers of social construction.

If we have a soul that’s really ours, or a part of us that is ours alone, then we should be able to know when we are lying and differentiate between that and the truth no matter what we say. So what I’m wondering is whether self-deception is possible. Have you lied to yourself? If so, how is possible for you to ever know?

This self, this part of me that is uniquely mine, and that self, in you, that makes you who you are, independent of biological nature and society’s nurture, should be unaffected by our “White Lies.”

But, have you ever noticed how easy it is to tell a “White Lie”? Or just any lie? How we can do it automatically, in certain social situations (a party) or in front of certain types of people (whose respect we crave). It’s as if we can lie without thinking about it. How is it possible to tell a lie without consciously crafting the fabrication beforehand? Even worse (or better), these lies are slick. They’re believable; they easily fit into other people’s impressions of us. Hence, a good liar is a serial exaggerator.

So what does it mean to be able to lie without thinking? Good muscle memory? Like shooting a free throw with your eyes closed. Well, if it’s muscle memory then what muscles is being exercised? And can you unlearn what you’ve practiced for so long?

For example, when I say something to you, I haven’t thought of what I was going to say before I said it, unless it’s a prepared speech. But in the rest of our conversations in class, in the halls, in basements, and in bed, we’re not really choosing our words carefully before we say them. We just say them, and sometimes they reveal something we didn’t intend — that’s how you get psychoanalysis (sort of).

So, you reveal aspects of yourself unintentionally when you speak. If that’s true, then what are you revealing about yourself when you lie? When you and I lie without meaning to, without thinking beforehand, and with reckless abandon?

You’re revealing your ignorance of yourself. Hence, you could be anyone. The world is just a range of possibilities for pretend. It means you’re letting social situations, your internal desires and everything else outside your control dictate who you are to yourself and to others. Think about it this way: do you control what you like? Or are you drawn to certain things and not others?

If we are not fully aware of ourselves, self-deception is possible. Do you know who you are in every way? If you’ve surprised yourself, then you obviously don’t fully know yourself. Otherwise, you couldn’t surprise yourself. If that experience is true, then is it possible for one part of ourselves (the person we are on a Saturday night) to lie and another part of ourselves (the person we are when we’re alone or asleep) to remain unaffected by hearing our own lie?

If we contradict ourselves over and over again, then what’s left? What self, soul, or conscience or whatever is underneath that web of contradictions? What if there’s nothing underneath? Then what are you left with, if there is a sense of you left.