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Lies vs. Morals

I’ve written three blog articles in the past about lying and ethics. Then this weekend I saw “The Invention of Lying” a witty and insightful movie by Ricky Gervais. The premise of the film is that one man, in a world that has no concept of lying, discovers he can lie – and what he does with that ability. For a good concise idea of what the movie is about, read Roger Ebert’s Review.

What I discovered is that the movie isn’t so much about the ability to lie, it is about how people treat each other. Gervais’ character, Mark, uses lies to his own benefit only minimally. He gets money, sure, but only from an entity we want to see give it up! In almost all the other key moments, he benefits others with his lies. He makes people without hope feel hopeful. He helps people with constricted views of themselves see beyond those limitations. Aside from a few comic moments needed to keep the satirical underpinning, he mostly treats people very well.

I still believe fundamentally in telling the truth, and will always advocate transparency in relationships, business and hiring. Out and out deceit with the purpose of taking advantage of someone unfairly is something I’ll always be against. But, I realized that there may actually be something more important than the pure black and white viewpoint of lies/truths.

Kindness, human understanding, dignity, consideration, even love, all depend just a little bit on lying. Sometimes it becomes more about being moral than being truthful. In the movie, Mark uses that benchmark, of first being a good person, of not hurting others, as his guide on how to act. I appreciated that message in the movie – it reframed “the truth” in a gentler light for me.