October 19, 2015

MOSKOWITZ | We All Lie

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By HUNTER MOSKOWITZ

We all lie. We all say “Nice to meet you” or “I’m good” or “I’m sorry” when we do not mean anything of those things. It’s just part of life. You cannot really be part of any conversation by just blurting out what you feel and expect people to react with understanding and compassion. Even if we tell the truth, we lie through omission or exaggeration. When I tell a friend a story about what I did the night before, I leave parts out that do not fit the narrative. I focus on the amazing and awesome parts of life to make them seem more amazing and awesome. I leave out the small daily moments of doubt that can make amazing and awesome seem mundane and flawed.

Yet the consequence of this lying seems small. It would be great if we could always tell the truth all the time, but we can’t. In fact, it hardly seems to be lying at all. Storytelling is interpretation. The words you choose and the tone of your voice is the story. How you tell the story makes the meaning of the story, not the facts that occurred. There are no certain realities, only explanations of them. Even a video camera can only capture a certain frame of action, all that is left can never be seen or considered.

This idea of lying in storytelling stretches to more than just daily conversation. If you read the news, you will find headlines that are misleading. Everyone can come up with an example of an outrageous headline that has been condemned because it appears false. Yet more than headlines, what facts are used in a story makes the story real. Many journalistic pieces will give background information about a topic before they cover a piece. This knowledge grounds the piece in a certain reality; it connects the present situation to one of the past. Yet these so-called truths are often lies. Any background knowledge, especially historical, is a matter of interpretation. It is not fact. Even if it just states the facts of what occurred, the omissions of interpretation can be as dangerous as simply lying. Background knowledge without proper context is not background knowledge at all. It just allows people to bring their already formed ideas and prejudices to judging the news.

In this way, when I say, “We all lie,” I mean in all the forms of information we consume. It’s not just in conversations, but the news, books, the Internet and art can all be forms that lie without us noticing it. They rely on giving us information from a certain perspective or reinforcing the perspective we already have.

Then what can we trust? If we all lie all the time, then nothing we read or consume can become a source of knowledge. This can only harm our thinking and understanding of those next to us and around the world.

There is no right answer to this question. It all depends on who you are and what experiences you have. I have always thought that one should keep an open mind. Any news story or piece of artwork can be looked at from a different, or multiple, perspectives. I try to keep those in mind when consuming my information.

Yet the truth is we do not really understand something unless we discover it for ourselves. It is in our own creations, our own experiences that we can find the most validity. We can and will lie to ourselves, but I think in the back of our mind, we know the truth. Through this lens, we should examine the truth of any idea or knowledge. If we can empathize, if we can find a shared experience with the subject we are talking about, then we can better understand the interpretation that is being made. I don’t think we should or ever will stop lying. Yet I do think we can only truly examine lies by looking inward and not forcing our own perspective on a complex world.  

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