“Let’s play a game. It is called Two Truths and A Lie. We will tell each other three things about ourselves – two of them true, and one untrue. Let’s see if people can figure out which one is the lie!”
This was in a social gathering at a restaurant one Summer afternoon. An ice-breaker technique. Two truths and a lie. There were some pretty bizarre truths, some reasonably transparent lies, and a lot of ooohs and aaahs at our table that day! It was all in good spirit, no one was judging (or no one cared if others were judging), and it was a great conversation starter. But I wish to dissect this phenomenon. The more fun and adventurous guys had peculiar truths like being chased by a bear or a drunk video getting a million views on YouTube, or getting their arm stuck in a boulder and having to call the National Park Service. So, they had to exaggerate their lies to match the wacky truths. On the other hand, the tamer ones had quite normal truths like being able to chug an entire beer can, or owning 3 cats and 7 lizards, or running 10 miles every day. These people now had to underplay their lies in order to fit the narrative and confuse the guessers. If you look closely, the truths were most likely curated, carefully mulled over, and cautiously worded. These were certainly truths – but those selected for display, those that went through various rounds of inspection to be deemed fit for public distribution.
In some ways this game represents our lives. For most truths about ourselves (I’ll get to the more general ones later), there are three verticals – the absolute truth, the version of the truth we tell ourselves, and the version we tell the world. Sometimes the absolute truth can be the same as what we tell ourselves, and at other times they can be vastly different. For instance, the absolute truth is that I slept late, didn’t hear the alarm in the morning, and hence was 15 minutes late to a meeting. The version I tell myself is a justification – I was just too tired, and anyway everyone makes mistakes, its not a big deal if I am a few minutes late. The version I tell the world is that there was crazy traffic and therefore I am late. Here, my brain is making up a scenario after weighing all the options – if I tell my boss that I woke up late, her high opinion of me would shatter, this meeting is not so important that a few minutes late would make so much difference, and I am not going to repeat this, so why lose face for this!
We orchestrate our social images and our external appearances to make ourselves presentable and to blend in with the society – this is not always out of social pressure because some of us might truly enjoy being part of a community of friends and family and we just do our parts in making ourselves and others feel welcome (albeit sticking to social rules while doing so). And when we orchestrate this, we also botch the truth, or muddle it up just enough to suit our character. We coat the blemishes on our face, paint over the grays in our hair, shove those love handles in with waist trainers, and mask our tattoos and anxieties alike. Are we lying? Are we cheating someone? Are we cheating ourselves? There is no definite answer here and it is futile to look for one in the hope that it will make us better people or open our hearts up.
Don’t we see that lying and hiding comes more naturally to us humans than speaking the truth? There must surely be a reason for this? When a chameleon blends into the garden or a moth into the bark of an elm tree, do we call them liars and cheats and fraudsters? No, because they have developed an evolutionary mechanism to survive by tricking the sole threat to their existence – predators. Similarly, we as humans have threats too – not to our lives, but to our personalities, friendships, relationships, and peace. And as humans, we do everything we can to shield ourselves and lying (or hiding the truth) is one of the primary coping mechanisms. It is why, for instance, a mother doesn’t tell her 5-year-old about death and violence – it is the truth, but it is not important.
Should we demand transparency and truth? Should we demand all information because we are capable of handling anything as humans? Should we penalize liars? These are subjective questions, but my answer is we should do what gives us the most peace. Sometimes we needn’t have known the truth, and sometimes we would have felt much better if we had known the truth.
Now, here are Two Truths and a Lie about me. Figure out the lie if you can.
1. I have been featured on one TV show and one radio show.
2. I have walked up to people twice before mistaking them for actors and asked for a selfie.
3. I once fell asleep in a school bus and was found 5 hours later in an abandoned lot, still asleep.