Short aphorisms tonight because it’s been a busy day. Just one and I’m going to make it relatively short (the last time I said this I wound up with a couple illustrations and well over a thousand words, and I had to delete it on revision, but I mean it this time).
But hey, I’m almost to 100. That’s a milestone!
The intention of never deceiving often exposes us to deception. (Maxim 118)François de La Rochefoucauld
I wish I was able to read Rochefoucauld in the native tongue and catch some of the nuance here, but I heard something interesting recently that made this maxim pop out to me.
One of the forms of deception is the “honest lie” that people tell by following the truth when it suits them.
I don’t mean that they ever tell a lie; this isn’t the same as selective honesty.
It’s a form of over-honesty.
It’s kind of like making excuses. As a teacher I used to get all sorts of reasons why students couldn’t turn work in on time or had other problems with their assignments, and the really important thing was always whether or not they’d actually tried their best and made an earnest effort.
Many students were able to come up with a compelling list of reasons, but they were also self-deceptive in their honesty.
The best way to think of the “honest lie” is to think of it as something akin to PR or spin. It’s not about telling a lie, it’s about giving information that other people don’t need because it paints you in a positive light. Of course you couldn’t do the assignment when relatives came to visit (last night), but you could have done it on any of the previous weeks going back to the date the assignment was given and posted online (last month).
Now, some of this is outside students’ control, and some of the time students were deliberately lying to me. They knew I’d check with parents, though, and I think they caught on to the fact that if they had an excuse to make it at least had to satisfy their family (and most had strict families; lying is bad enough, lying to a teacher is an atrocity!).
But the real important thing here is that we wind up deceiving ourselves with lesser truths when we should be looking at greater ones.
Jordan Peterson once spoke about oppression, and he pointed out that at a certain point the problem with people making claims of victimhood is that they’re all true. On some level everyone has experienced injustice, oppression, or setbacks that they don’t deserve to face.
However, the problem is that the view of the little truth (of being oppressed) is that it eclipses the big truth of the power that we have, in the same way that the little truth of last minute barriers in my students’ workflow eclipses the big truth of having the time and resources to complete the assignment and not allocating them correctly (in most cases).
You can avoid deception and still be lying to yourself.
Look for the big truth, not the little truth.
Aim to live truthfully, not just without lying.
Don’t manipulate people with lies, but don’t manipulate them with truth either.