With the exception of unsolicited texts and emails, I have the dreadful tendency to take everything I am told at face value. (The obvious exception to this state of affairs is when I am listening to a politician – any politician – when my default position is ‘I don’t believe a single word…’) Often it is difficult enough for me to accommodate a single meaning, without deliberately searching for a double. I don’t believe that I am totally gullible, but I do generally accept what people are telling me as the truth – why would they lie to me?
But, here’s the thing, people do. I’m not just talking the African Princesses who need me to send them $5,000 by return of post in order that they can claim the $5,000,000 that is rightly theirs and fly directly to England to marry me; I am talking about the people who sell me a hammer and tell me that constructing a conservatory is easy; that sell me a bookcase and tell me that the instructions, although in Swahili, are incredibly easy to follow; who sell me a silk suit and insist that I do not look like a sow’s ear. Some people lie and, unless you are supremely naïve, you learn to question everything you are told. This can be a good thing – eg when the Estate Agent assures you that, despite being built over a former open-cast tin mine, there is no history of subsidence in the whole estate – but not so good when your wife tells you that you are about to be a father.
So, you blunder into the minefield of who to believe or trust and who to dis-believe on principle. In the case of your partner, I would suggest that might depend upon how long you want them to remain your partner, but (let’s exclude family here) in almost every other case the decision involves some kind of value judgement: are they trustworthy; have they any reason to lie? When you are not by nature a liar, it can be very difficult to discern the motive behind a lie.
There are occasions when I would like to lie, but I am notoriously bad at it. I cannot keep a secret. I have, though, had friends who have successfully kept secrets from me for years. Keeping a secret sounds more noble, but it almost inevitably involves telling a lie in the end. I don’t know how you keep track of it all. I struggle to remember the truth, adding a layer of subterfuge on top of it would confuse me beyond all reason.
Obfuscation appears to be the way: creating a degree of confusion that means that the need for a direct lie is completely negated, that no-one really knows exactly what you have said and are too afraid to ask you to explain, in case it makes them look foolish. I don’t care about looking foolish – I am used to it – but I still seldom question what I am told. It involves a questioning of integrity that I am seldom prepared to voice. Fortunately for me, most people seem quite content to have at least one idiot as a friend.
I think that I should probably point out at this time that, whilst some people most certainly do, I don’t consider myself to be completely stupid (although, anybody who has known me for any length of time, could almost certainly make a decent case for it). My eagerness to ‘join in’ often leads to me making jokes that nobody gets; to laughing loudly at jokes that are, in fact, not jokes; to talking when I really should be listening. Lately, I have come to realise that I am also digitally inept: I can destroy a perfectly good ‘conversation’ by text or email too. The absence of grammar, context, body language and facial gestures can make interpretation nigh-on impossible for me.
I know that you will, by now, be wondering exactly where this is all leading and more probably, as you know me by now, why? Well, two things. Firstly I was watching a politician on TV who had been so obviously caught out in a blatant lie, that he could not possibly deny it – and yet he still did. Secondly, I was having a conversation with a lady, previously unknown to me – giving me no clues of familiarity – whilst we were both wearing masks, when I discovered that the only conversational nuances I could pick up from her facial expressions were in her eyes. So, I found myself staring intently at them. This, I am sure, can be extremely disconcerting, but it does make it incredibly difficult to lie. Very few people – save, perhaps, those who do it professionally – are able to lie through the eyes. As my granny used to say, ‘The eyes cannot lie.’
I’m certain though, that it has nothing to do with the reluctance of some of our MP’s to wear a mask. Does it?