Wednesday, December 3, 2014

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“When you lie to people, you hurt their feelings. It’s bad to hurt people’s feelings.”

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“Do you remember the story of the little shepherd, who cried ‘wolf!’ when there were no wolves to find, and whose word nobody trusted for all their lies and mischief? If you were to lie too much, my child, then people would not believe you when you had something important to say.

“The trust of others is a precious commodity, child, and you mustn’t squander it without good reason. Be truthful, and your truth may always be heard.”

Francis Barlow's illustration of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Via Wikipedia.

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“Lying isn’t always wrong, my child!

“When your teacher asks you how you are, what do you say? You say, ‘I’m fine, thank you, and how are you?’. You say that even if you aren’t fine. Because you’re supposed to lie. That lie is just part of the rules for how we talk to each other!

“When you ask me about the tooth fairy, Mummy lies and pretends it’s a real thing. Even though it isn’t! I do it because it makes you excited about losing your tooth instead of scared. That lie makes you happy instead of thinking about the pain!

“When the mayor says he won’t take money away from the library, he’s lying because he needs to get reelected. That lie is just part of his job. If he didn’t lie, he would be replaced by someone who was a better liar! Wouldn’t that be funny?

“When I tell you that lying is wrong, that’s a lie too. And I tell you that lie to make my life easier.”

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“It’s okay for you to lie. Just make sure nobody else does.”

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“When you’re all grown up, my child, you’ll understand that you should never set rules that contradict themselves. Imagine the opposite rule. Imagine if everybody was allowed to lie whenever they wanted! Then there would hardly be such a notion as truth for us to define lying by! ‘Lying is okay’ contradicts itself; it would be a terrible universal rule.

“Therefore, lying is wrong.”

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“I’m not your mother.”


“I’m not even real.”

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“Imagine all the happiness belonging to all the people in the whole world, my child. When two people become friends, there is even more happiness in all. When you scrape your knee, you are hurt and there is less.

“Lying may beget you a little happiness, but at the cost of others’. For when your friends find out they were lied to, or when the consequences of that lie affect them, they will lose double the happiness you gained. And there will be less happiness in the whole world to go around!

“We must all always endeavour to make there be more happiness, more Good. And so we mustn’t tell lies, lest we take happiness away from the world.”

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“All acts are wrong, my child. No choice you make will ever be pure, without consequences. ‘Lying is wrong’ does not mean ‘don’t lie’. It means ‘lie, but lie knowing the costs’.”

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“The same reason all wrong things are wrong — they cost us the beauty and harmony that the world has given us. Stealing your little cousin’s toy is wrong because it takes away the beauty of childhood innocence. Shining your magnifying glass on the ants is wrong because it takes away the beauty of their lives and the wonderful natural order that they are a part of.

“Lying takes away the beauty of people sharing ideas with each other.”

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“Your Mummy feels an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach when people lie. That feeling is a visceral reaction of disgust, and those are what help us tell right from wrong.

“Other things disgust Mummy too. People shouting at each other and hurting each other’s feelings. Blood. Homophobia. Interracial marriage. Postmodern art. Videos of childbirth. Vulgar words. By trusting my intuition I learn that these, too, are wrong.

“In time I will help you learn what to be disgusted by. Until then, just know that lying is wrong.”

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“Did you know that, once upon a time, there were two clans, the Diamond Clan and the Zephyr Clan? The clans were separated by a great valley, but they were very similar. They lied sometimes, they stole from each other sometimes, they used their fists instead of their words sometimes.

“Life was not too bad in these clans, but people always had to pay extra attention to guarding their precious things, to telling truth from lies. Every time you wanted to buy a loaf of bread from someone, you would have to check extra carefully to make sure that they hadn’t hollowed it out, and they would have to check that your gold pieces weren’t fool’s gold. Imagine how difficult it would have been to go to the shops!

“One day, the Great Philosophers of the Zephyr Clan gathered all the clanspeople together. They announced a grand rule that everyone would have to follow: tell the truth, or you will be in trouble. Do not steal, or you will be in trouble.”

“At first, people did not like the rules. Why should anyone else tell them when they were allowed to lie, or when they were allowed to take things? And, in truth, people never quite ended up liking those rules. But a strange thing happened. The people of the Zephyr clan became more productive. They knew that their neighbours wouldn’t steal from them, so they could spend more time working their fields. They trusted other people to pay them at the end of the day for building their roads, and were trusted in turn. They could work together, they could work for each other, they could do so many things they couldn’t have before.

“And it so happened that the Zephyr clan grew and prospered, while the Diamond clan did not.

“Lying, child, became ‘wrong’ for the Zephyr clanspeople when they decided it was wrong. But they gained something different instead. They traded their freedom to lie and to take what they found, for different kinds of freedom built upon trust or property or whatever else.

“And to this day, their descendants tell people, ‘don’t lie’.”

“Mummy, why is lying wrong?”

“Because it is.”