Apparently, the eleventh commandment is “thou shalt not get caught” though the former President Reagan (Republican) said that it meant you mustn’t criticise another Republican. Thou shalt not get caught is a less graceful edition of “thou shalt not be found out” – an update of “Curses, I am discovered” with the last syllable pronounced rather than swallowed. Whether we say found out, caught or discovered, the implication is clearly that we are doing something dubious and it will only be acceptable if we get away with it.
When you ask people to discuss truth and lies, you open the door to the difference between what you were taught and what you do, the difference between theory and practise. And then it is personal choice. What very often governs the perception of truth or lie is opinion.
For example, I read a newspaper item yesterday by a man who had never visited a podiatrist before and went to an outfit which he left feeling he had had a positive experience and wrote, highly recommending the place. As far as he is concerned, he’s told the truth.
I have had four experiences over the last four years with podiatrists (I am older and have more difficult feet) and the range of experience varied. This doesn’t mean all podiatrists are thieves and liars: it might mean I was unfortunate: it does mean that feet vary, the age of the person attached to the feet varies (and thus their health, needs, weight and so on): it does mean that podiatrists vary, one from another and at least one of my experiences was with someone who felt she was outstandingly capable to which I can only say “Not for me she wasn’t.”
If you buy four oranges and you get them home and one is already rotting, it is perfectly understandable to return it (if you can be bothered) and get another piece of fruit. To use that descriptive phrase, the fruit is ”not fit for purpose” .
But if your friend goes to a fashionable hairdresser and has a haircut which is everything she doesn’t want, the truth is not that the hairdresser is terrible but that the hairdresser is not for her. All she can say, if you thought you try it, is “Good luck with that, I’d never go there again.”
And what about big things ? There is no major religion or system of belief that endorses killing. But most political, religious and belief systems are supported by fighting for your own, whatever that “own” happens to be. And then it gets complicated. Is the truth “this is someone who believes like me and I must fight to the death if necessary to protect her or him ?” Or is the truth “this is someone who believes like me and he or she is in danger but what happens is out of my hands – the will of God, the will of law, the luck of the draw, however you describe it – not something in which I can participate because I know my responsibility is not to kill ? “ Those who don’t fight back and incidentally kill in a circumstance where it seems to be the only answer don’t get a good press. Those who tell the painful truth (“I’d never make a pacifist”) don’t either.
Believing there is only one answer, that truth is black and white, absolute or denied, is emotionally expensive. Truth and lies are bound up with identity and we like to think we are defined by the sum of what our lives have been. It is painful to discover that we need papers to define who we are and thus what our intentions were. More painful still to discover that if papers are destroyed, no matter what we have tried to do and be, we are denied. The truth about Windrush seems to be that, when a government is looking to control immigration, it looks for a soft target. How shaming. How predictable. Hang the eleventh commandment. Always make copies of official papers and keep them safe. Volunteer to be found out because the light that is shone on you will be shone on the other side of the question too. Sometimes, thank heaven, the truth is clear.