Yup, and this time for reasons I might delineate in a wrathful expose shortly, fired from my job!! For those of you who didn’t know, for the last year, I’ve been a paid editor (and unpaid writer) for New York Moves magazine. The brief version goes something like: publisher Mamoonah finds out that chief editor Richard is paying me twice as much as she expects her skilled employees to be paid (that is, pittance or nothing), insists that my pay be slashed in half, I decline to work at the new truncated rate, am replaced with two twenty year-old interns out of Harvard (who allow such literary abuses to appear in print as “comprised of,” “who’s” where “whose” is required, nostalgic references to Sex and the City in nearly every article in every issue, and phrases which manage to be overwrought, out of place, and cliched, like “down that road lies madness….“). During my latest trip to the city, after receiving no responses to several emails and phone calls I make concerning $500 I am owed, as well as my hope to negotiate an agreeable payscale and continue my work there, I appear at the office to discuss it in person and am ushered back out into the corridor (interns all a-gawk) by chief editor Richard and lectured on the necessity for me to “get real,” informed that I have made a nuisance of myself, the magazine no longer wants my contributions and would I please leave the building.
This is an article I had written at the behest of chief Richard on the subject of truth; he wanted something profound, like why truth is good and lies are bad (perhaps this was motivated by the fact that he had been lying to Moonah for several months about how much money he was paying me). Since I haven’t blogged much recently, I’ll post this for you to read while I contemplate why everything I’m involved in ends in flames.
How tenuous are the bases of our day-to-day interactions with our fellow men and women. How dependent we are upon these strangers for the management of the dross of our daily lives. We trust the butcher to be honest about the freshness of his meat. We trust our doctors to give honest diagnoses of our ailments, and not condemn us to unnecessary surgeries. We trust reviewers to give objective assessments of the movies we see, not based on any financial or personal entanglements they might have with the studios or artists. Of course, to trust blindly is naïve, and if one investigates any one of these relationships beyond the surface, one is likely to find betrayals of varying degrees of seriousness. The butcher wants to get rid of his aging beef and will probably extend its shelf life by a day or two in his claims of its newness. Most doctors in our country get paid extra per surgery, and thus have reason to err on the side of slicing into one whenever possible. It is common knowledge that a reviewer’s published opinions will often understandably coincide with the business interests of the publication for which he works. How much advertising does Warner Bro.’s buy in the Times?
Life would be significantly simpler and less stressful if honesty could be taken for granted in our interactions with strangers. The unfortunate fact is that because those interactions usually take the form of financial transactions, we are constantly assuming the pose of either one who profits by the other party, or one by whom the other party profits. It makes sense that widespread dishonesty would stem from this commercialism, and the only thing keeping us from plummeting further into treachery is whatever innate honesty people possess individually, or even collectively, that is, how much value our society places on honesty, even if only in lip service easily drowned out by the din of lies told in the name of the “bottom line.” In our impersonal relationships, based only on the assumption of honesty, the lack of that honesty causes the greater anxiety and majority of problems.
But what of our personal relationships, the basis of which is not the assumption of honesty but the assumption of love? These are not constructed around the exchange of goods and collection of profit, but around the mutual affection and wish for the well-being of the other. The accepted reckoning is that in such relationships, honesty is still the best policy most of the time. However, if it is a given that the basis of a relationship is love (this is of course an examination of forms, not of individual real-life cases, each of which is no doubt riddled with exceptions, qualifiers, and contradictions), then one can also assume that any lie told is told in the name of love and well-wishing, rather than profit and exploitation. The name for this is of course the “white lie,” and many deny its validity regardless of the motive. The white lie, detractors say, encourages people to cling to comforting but hollow notions about themselves, and they are wise who face those harsh truths and find comfort by some other way than self-delusion. When your wife asks if her butt looks big in these jeans, and indeed it does, is she not better off knowing it?
A friend of mine, let’s call him Ellis Richardson, and I are locked in a long-standing stalemate in our debate on the virtues of lying. His conviction is that every lie we tell, “white” or no, holds us back as people and as a society: we must endure the harshness of the truth (for the unmitigated truth is indeed a harsh thing) in order to come out healthier, happier, and freer: it is good for your wife to know her butt size to scale. My stance is that the truth can be too destructive when wielded indiscriminately; it is a tricky thing to unite candor and tact, and it takes some thick skin to be made happy and free by the clumsy imposition of some terrifying accuracy. I have, until now, avoided examining this topic too closely for fear of being persuaded by “Ellis” towards his blanket condemnation of any and all forms of lying, as this would discredit the staggering number of lies I’ve told in my life and prevent me from ever being able to lie with any integrity again.
But perhaps there is a compromise in the differentiation between the motives behind lies told for profit and those told out of affection. That Zorbas the Greek desires the dying Madame Hortense is a “white lie,” but her belief in the lie and their lovemaking give her a brief but truthfully-felt bit of happiness before her death. How much kinder is Zorbas’s lie than the cruel frankness of the old women who keep their perverse vigil at her bed, not bothering to conceal their intention to plunder her small home the moment she expires! It is Zorbas’s generous and affectionate nature, his greater engagement with love and pleasure than with ambition and profit, which make him trustworthy even in his dishonesty.
It is accepted wisdom that the person you love is the one person with whom you can be completely honest, but I would contend that rather, the person you love is the only person with whom you can be dishonest, as it is (or as long as it is) from a position of genuine goodwill. When you are loved by someone you can trust that if he lies it is because he believes that the lie is not only kinder but actually better for you than the truth. Whether the lie is ever better in fact seems to me no less reliable than that truth is always better, is always kinder, is beauty. One who knows you knows when your illusions are harmless or even healthy, and when they perpetuate destructive or delusive behavior, and if he loves you will feed or destroy those illusions accordingly. It is not for his own profit but that of his beloved, that the one who loves, lies.