The Truth About Lying (And Lies About the Truth)

The Invention of Lying features a high concept narrative set in an alternate reality in which there is no such thing as lying and everything said is the absolute truth. In this world people continually make very blunt, often cruel statements, and remarks that people in the real world would normally keep to themselves.  (source: Wikipedia)

The lead character is Mark Bellison (played by Ricky Gervais) a failed writer who gets fired from him job, has an epiphany and decides to tell the world’s first lie. The movie revolves around the consequences of Bellison’s lie and provides a comical examination of what we know about lying… and what we don’t know about not telling the truth.

Here, Ruzaini Zul explores his thoughts and reaction to the movie.

Let’s visit err… alright, the name of the place was never mentioned in the movie. Or was it mentioned? Maybe I didn’t hear it correctly and distinctively? Never mind, I’ll just stick to my proposition and begin writing this article, which is to tell you that I’ve had the pleasure of being witness to the most creative, innovative, intelligent and extraordinary invention to have taken place in the world.

invention of lying

In The Invention of Lying, we are introduced to a parallel world in which everyone tells the truth and no one lies. Everyone says out loud what they think. No one filters their speech and they are more than happy and excited to tell you what they think of you, the environment, their workplace and pretty much anything and everything. It is a world where everyone is just naturally compelled to speak the truth about anything that comes across their mind!

Watching this movie, I started to think about the whole idea and concept about “truth” and “lies”, and the very meaning of these two terms. I looked up these two words in the dictionary and found at least seven definitions of the word “truth” and another nine for its antonym. But all these definitions don’t really conform to the idea of truth and lies that the world has in mind.

Let me try to explain this.

In its simple form, truth is understood as the telling of the actual state of a thing or a matter, or even an opinion. You say it exactly the way you think it without the frills that come with being diplomatic. Now, most people have the notion that truth is offensive. And to a certain extent, this is rather true.

Likewise, lying is understood as the denial of the actual state of a thing; the concealment of information; a filtered opinion or the keeping of a secret. Lying can sometimes also be a good thing, especially when the circumstances force us to lie. For example, when the revelation of the truth would “hurt” its recipient. Regrettably, this was an aspect that wasn’t explored in the movie.

That said, I’d like to present my understanding of the truth and what constitutes the truth. I will do the same for lying.

When you tell the truth, you are simply telling people the actual state of a thing; an undisputed fact. Truth can be offensive, no doubt about that. And it is especially true in cases where there is reluctance by people to accept the truth. At the same time, it isn’t true that the telling the truth must necessarily offend. If there is any offense, it would most likely come from the reluctance to accept, not the manner of delivery. I can tell you the truth with a subtle and soft voice, which I normally do and yet it can be quite offensive to you and vice versa.

As for lying, it is the act of giving information which defies the actual state of the matter, distorting the undisputed fact and manufacturing a different matter altogether from the actual state. Put simply, lying is when you don’t tell someone the actual state of a thing or a matter.

Now let’s go to the part about identifying when an act is not lying.

Firstly, I’m not lying to you if I don’t give my opinion concerning you or anything else because there was nothing to say in the first place that could’ve been said to have departed from the actual state of a matter.

Secondly, I’m also not lying when I don’t tell you something in its entirety. I’m merely not supplying you with sufficient information. Similarly, I’m not lying when I imagine or when I speak of something in hope because there is no real standard to define whether my subjective imagination is wrong or not.

I couldn’t help but to disagree a lot on the concept of truth and lies when I watched The Invention of Lying. I still hold the view that it isn’t possible for the world to be defined purely in black and white. Such a simplistic notion insults our intelligence, mocks our ability to think creatively and is an affront to our ability to wisely discern between what’s true and what isn’t. These instances were demonstrated perfectly in the movie by dim-witted characters who couldn’t decide on simple matters such as which acts were considered right and wrong.

All in all, the movie reflects a lot of the world as we know it. What we know to be the truth (or untruth) and what we regard as right or wrong are all ideas (some skewed) that we’ve inherited from our predecessors and which we pass on to the generation after us, and so on.

The world Mark Bellison is forced to live in is simply one that is impossible. And that’s the whole truth.

Ruzaini hails from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah and having resided in various places within 17 years of his life (within Sabah only, of course), he has a problem identifying any specific place to be called his hometown. Instead, he borrows a phrase from Dr. Farish Noor’s “The Nomad Prayer” in his book “Qur’an and Cricket” – “God take me home. And let my home be everywhere.”

He is a self-proclaimed perfectionist yet laid-back and fairly poor in spelling. Currently in his final semester of reading law Ruzaini likes to go deep into issues and topics that interest him. He thinks it is more interesting to explore the “why” than the “what”. If one settles only on the “what”, one will only have superficial knowledge about the thing. Having said that, Ruzaini more often than not ends up having a monologue when it comes to understanding the “why”. He wonders why.

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Posts by Ruzaini Zul

A self-confessed laid back perfectionist and a keen observer of human characters (Although he sometimes doesn't know how to interpret them). He has a problem identifying any specific place to be called his hometown. Instead, he borrows a phrase from Dr. Farish Noor’s “The Nomad Prayer” in his book “Qur’an and Cricket” — “God take me home. And let my home be everywhere.”

Posted on 14 January 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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5 Responses to The Truth About Lying (And Lies About the Truth)

  1. Dear comrades, thank you for the comment.

    Izmil, thank you for the warm welcoming.

  2. Welcome to LB dear comrade. U belong here.

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