BACK STORY: K. invites her mother, E., to stay with her at the beachfront house she rented, and both of them decide that it'd be fine if E. brings her friend D. along, whom K. has already met and liked. D., it's soon established with a puff of smoke, brought pot with her, and K. becomes worried. She could lose her license, she says (driver's license? nursing license?). E. could as well (insurance license?). D. is smoking the pot out in the open, on the deck, with no worries. This makes K. even more uncomfortable, especially since the house was rented in her friend's name. (Of possible interest: K. has smoked pot before, as has E., most likely.) Anyway, D. is told to stop, but doesn't. So, since K. is still uncomfortable, E. tells K. that they'll just go home. K. feels bad. "It's no big deal," E. tells her. "This kind of stuff happens to me all the time." They finally agree. Next E. makes up a story to tell D. as the reason for their sudden, unplanned departure. "I have to go home because I can't get in touch with my brother," she tells D., which causes them to come home two days earlier than planned.
THOUGHTS: When I told E. that D. was perceptive enough to figure out the real reason―or at least figure out that the reason given was bullshit―E. responded, "No, it's fine." I asked her why she didn't just tell D. the truth about why they were leaving. E. replied, "Think how bad it would make D. feel if she knew we were coming home early because of her." Well, I said, why not just tell her, "Look, this is making K. uncomfortable, and when we asked you to stop before, we were being serious. So, again, can you please stop? Because if you don't stop we're going to have to go home early; as I said, K. isn't comfortable with the risk. Maybe you don't think there's any risk but we're K.'s guests, therefore it's her decision." Then, I explained, the ball is in D.'s court, and she couldn't feel bad if she then "made you" take her home. Once she's been made aware of the gravity of the situation (as K. sees it), she has only herself to blame if she continues to smoke. Furthermore, if she still decides against complying with her friend's request once the situation has been made explicitly clear, then you'll discover that D. isn't a very respectful friend, which would be nice to know (though that information would probably be uncomfortable and therefore undesirable, in E.'s view). But this direct approach never seemed to occur to E., and I suspect it's because the real reason the lie was fostered in the first place was to prevent D. from thinking K. and E. were party poopers, fuddy-duddies, squares. In other words, the lie was created by E. and K., not for D.'s sake, but for their own. They, quite unknowingly, wanted to maintain the image they had of themselves as hip, with-it, cool, easy going, laid-back, open-minded―an image they want others (in this case, D.) to see and believe as well; therefore, they had to present and foster it, even if only as a mask. Facing the truth would have meant casting doubt on this image.
Now, if that's not the case (of course they would almost certainly deny it regardless, probably because they're hiding it from themselves), then the lie makes even less sense because it's so arbitrary and pointless. "Quick! We have to go! I called my brother five times, and he didn't pick up!" They've established a mode where lying has become the default, go-to response to any semi-confrontational situation, which is, among other things, juvenile. But seeing it as juvenile would conflict with another one of the images they have of themselves, which is that of a mature, responsible adult. So what must they do instead? They have to justify their lying by seeing it as essential, even good. "You don't understand. I was really just helping her. Protecting her." (Stop and think about everything that rationale implies for a moment.) And they also justify it by viewing it as a "white lie", the kind of lie that's standard and acceptable. They classify it along with, "No, you do not look fat in that" (which isn't a very helpful lie either, if you think about it1). But if they would allow themselves to step back for a moment and exercise some reflection and self-criticism, it wouldn't be overly difficult to see how unnecessary, silly, and potentially harmful such lies are. But people don't usually do that. It requires too much unmasking, too big a fight between who you think you are and who you really are.
People who have made white lies their standby also don't seem to realize how obvious such lies are to anyone with half a brain, which has the added effect of annoying everyone around you who happens to have half a brain. (When you lie to a perceptive person, they usually hear (or suspect) the lie. And when they watch a liar's lips move, they don't see the liar mouthing the lie, they see them mouthing the words, "You are dumb as shit; that's why I think you'll believe this.") The white-liar thinks they're fooling everyone, but they're only fooling themselves. Protecting themselves, preserving their self-image. "This kind of stuffs happens to me all the time," E. said to K. Maybe it's time she started asking herself why.
Interestingly, perhaps the notion that D.'s smoking bothered K. was actually a white lie constructed by K. in order to get one (or both) of them to leave! Maybe they were getting on her nerves, and she wanted to spend the last few days alone. (Very crafty, K.!) Just maybe... After all, when that's the world you've decided to create, who could ever know for sure?
1 Much better is the truth, politely phrased. Some variation of: "I've seen you in much more flattering outfits." Then the person, you know, might actually find something better to wear. (This is the footnote that will inevitably cause certain white-liars to say to themselves, "Wait, I do that," thus resulting in them disregarding everything else I said above, thinking it no longer applies to them.)
|Dante and Virgil among the white-falsifiers|