Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lies , white lies and fibs

English is a peculiar language.  There are many words which have more than one meaning.  Take the word ‘Lie’.  Generally it refers to untruth but is also  used for describing a person stretching out  or a thing (say a bag) lying on a chair.  This article is about the first form of lie.

Lies are also known as fibs, falsehood, falsification, half-truths.  Even exaggeration is considered a form of lying  which many of the advertising guys indulge  in when they are promoting products or services.  Sales people are known not only for exaggeration but also  telling white lies while trying to sell their products.  There is an interesting saying in Tamil which describes the salesman  as a person who has a pye (bag) in his hand, tie on his neck, lie on his lips (kaiyile pai, kazhuthile tie, vayile poi).  A friend who was a successful marketing man in his lifetime described the job of a salesman as one who can tell white  lies with convincing logic.

Apart from ad guys and sales people, others who have to tell lies as a part of their profession are lawyers and politicians. The latter`s  election promises are most often a bunch of lies.  And there are , ofcourse, ordinary people who are congenital liers, who tell lies through their teeth, for no rhyme or reason.  The most common among them  are the habitual borrowers who will tell a  hundred lies to borrow money and equal number to justify why they cant repay.

There is  another saying in Tamil according to which a family can tell a thousand lies to conduct a marriage (Aayiram Poi Solly Oru Kalyanam).  In real life,  however, it does not work. I know of a friend`s friend  who divorced his wife within a couple of months of his marriage when he discovered that his wife who was supposed to be a graduate had not even entered the portals of a college. He refused to live with a lie!

On the other hand a fib is a harmless lie, which all of us use to get out of tricky situations.  Like the fibs that husbands tell their wives or what the students tell their parents or teachers.

I learnt the word from one of my bosses, early in life.  I was a Management Trainee with an NGO before I got into advertising.  The boss was a great disciplinarian who tried to instill  the importance of systems, procedures,  time management and honesty in me.  He also exposed me to the futility  of telling lies to get out of situations. 

This boss  had the habit of visiting the  tables of his staff  once in a while as it happened to me within a month of my joining the NGO. Sitting on my  chair,  he asked me to take out my personal things from the drawer.  Then he  started  pulling out official papers from the drawer which related to items on which I ought to have taken action but had not.  However, I had lied to him that I had taken action.  As I stood  shivering at the exposure and waiting to be fired  he  invited  me to his room for a chat.

Instead of admonishing me  he told me that what I had done was not lying but fibbing. He said,” A fib is a harmless  lie.  But when you get into the habit of fibbing regularly, it becomes a white lie, which can lead you to messy situations”.

I  realized early in life that one  must be extremely clever to tell  a string of lies to cover  up the earlier lie.  The policy of not lying had helped me win the hearts of hundreds of clients that I have serviced  during my long career as an advertising man.  Instead of lying to cover up a mistake,  I would be the first to inform  the client about my  mistake and seek his understanding. He will invariably appreciate my honesty and help me  get out of the situation.

Even if you are not living a lie or lying through your teeth the fact is that all of us tell lies, to save ourselves from tricky situations, sometimes leaving the guilt of our lies, lying heavily on us.

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