Moral turpitude

I very, very rarely lie and I was reminded of this fact quite emphatically recently. It has permeated my value structure and behaviour patterns so deeply that I had forgotten just how central it was, until something happened that made me feel uneasy.

A friend asked me to back them up with a little white lie. I generally like to do what I can to back up a mate and I couldn’t see any harm in it, so I agreed. I wouldn’t have chosen to lie if I were them, but then neither do I think I have a right to impose my ethical and value code on anyone else. I know why I agreed the first time and then the second. I don’t have an issue with my decision as such. I value my friend’s judgement and if they wish for this support I am happy to give it for now.

The whole thing is just starting to nag at me, though. As is usual in these situations, my feelings about it say a lot more about me than they do the other parties. I’ve reflected on it a while to figure out what is going on in my head. It actually has a great deal to do with my previously married life and it is not a coincidence that the little white lie involves my friend’s significant other. But, their business really is none of mine and I’m not overly worried about them. What bothers me is the realisation that I have an abject fear of telling lies. When I say that I rarely tell them, I mean it. I used to be so keen on avoiding lying that I would have to explain my motivations to people who really didn’t need the details, just so I was quite sure I wasn’t willingly lying by omission. Even now, I still sometimes describe myself as pathologically honest. I just recognise that I don’t have to hold on to my badge of honesty quite so tightly any more.

I will state here that I can (and do) manage white lies in order to save face and feelings where there is no percievable benefit from being honest, though I try to avoid even those if possible. I also am very much on guard against using honesty as a weapon and being brutally honest. There is very rarely call for that either. In fact, I expend quite a lot of energy on finding ways to satisfy my desire not to lie while also to try and be mindful of other people’s assumptions, values and needs.

So why the fixation with avoiding telling untruths?

In answer: I have spent years of my life keeping different stories straight in my head. Not just telling a few lies, but literally trying to inhabit different personas, different lives, different mes in order to keep people in my life happy and still somehow eke out an existence that didn’t rip me into pieces. That sounds counter-intuitive, but it really was about that. I had neither the strength nor the wherewithal to argue for my version of integrating everything. This was for all kinds of reasons that I’ve beaten myself over the head with far more than enough already.

Aside from these three key observations:

1) it is very easy to lie if someone wants you to;

2) if you have an ultimately more important value, lying is justifable even if significant mental hardship and fuckery is called for;

3) lying is one way of maintaining a bit of space and privacy for oneself in a world where this is frowned upon;

the most important thing I learned and took away from the experience is that by lying in order to make things (life) work you are constantly telling yourself that you are not really entitled to the things you wish to have, but can’t be honest about.

In my case the things I wished to have were not actually considered unreasonable by the world at large. As it turned out, it seems like only the one person thought they were utterly unreasonable. I wish I could say it was only a wedding vow that held us together, but I made the choice to persisit time and again for all sorts of reasons that have a lot to do with hope, guilt, idealism, duty, low self esteem, love and possibly a number of other things I am not fully aware of.

I will qualify this outpouring with one thing and that comes from my pride. I was never adulterous. The lies were upsettingly and, frighteningly, much more mundane in their content. It is the scope of them that is unbelievable. They imprisoned me. This is why I don’t generally lie – my fear of imprisoning myself again is far too strong.


3 thoughts on “Moral turpitude

  1. Fascinating. As one who also is paranoid about dishonesty, I’ve always believed it was about practicality and a fear of not being trusted. Of course I’ve boxed myself into corners which involve lying as the only means of escape but I value the fact that people believe me.
    Having stayed ridiculously long in a marriage where I was consistently betrayed, probably out of love, fear, denial, etc. I remember how I felt about mutual friends who had backed up my wife’s stories and I guess I could never forgive them. I know how it feels to realise I’ve been lied to and i cam never give someone else that pain. Not only would I not commit adultery, I would neither help one who had. I couldn’t stand sharing that guilt
    This is just a personal thing and maybe holds me back but it’s deeply held.

  2. Hi Gareth,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, I am really interested to read your response.

    I appreciate your feelings, but I can’t help feeling an implied judgement on me which I am not sure is fair. I never said anything about supporting a friend in lies about adultery. I said I could see no harm in the white lie. I would not say that about something I believed to be covering an affair.

    Also, as I said above, what someone else chooses to say or do (including lying or not) about is their business and I fully appreciate people make all sorts of decisions for their own reasons that are really none of my business. I try very hard not to impose my own ethical viewpoint on other people, while still maintaining my own boundaries and principles. It’s a tricky balance.

    L x

  3. I think I picked up on hints about your history and someone’s “significant other’ and the way the nagging is taking you back. Sorry if I filled in too many gaps but it struck a lot of chords with me.
    You say you don’t impose your morality on others but isn’t that a little like going on an armed robbery because, although you’re against the crime, you don’t feel able to criticise? Allowing them to make their own choices doesn’t include involving yourself and compromising your principles.
    I guess I have my hang ups and one of them is casual lies. Maybe a subject for my own blog and not yours.
    Hopefully this is all therapeutic as well as fairly naked.

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