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The Culture Of Lying With Impunity

The unfortunate reality is that today; lying, quoting mistruths, subverting facts and spreading fake news has become such an embedded part of our system and social fabric that we end up doing it easily and with verve

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A few days ago I had a small fracas with a neighbouring 5-star luxury hotel, which shall remain unnamed in this story, because that’s irrelevant to the incident. 

This particular hotel is in my close vicinity, and a fine property indeed, with excellent service and a legacy to be proud of. Unfortunately like most things Indian, its management has markedly little sensitivity towards noise and the disturbance it can cause in a neighbourhood. And thus on a fine Sunday morning when everybody around was at rest, and all was peace and quiet, the hotel staff decided to commence building repairs with much clamour and commotion.

The awful din made by the drilling machine nearly brought the Good Lord out on the Sabbath and not wanting to trouble Him on this day of rest, I took the bull by the horns and sent a polite but firm Twitter message out in the universe asking the hotel to cease and desist the infernal noise here-forth. The universe benignly assisted me by commandeering several Twitter message drums, ensuring the message reached the hotel management post haste. Impressively the hotel management jumped into action and immediately stopped the drilling. 

Now till this moment everything was well and good and I was just about getting ready to send the hotel staff a message of appreciation when much to my surprise they clambered on to the social platform with a categoric denial that they had been making any noise, and stating that the only work they had been doing was painting the façade, an activity which was as innocent as it was noise-less!

Blatant in its un-veracity and aggressive in its tone, I was completely taken aback at both the untruth and the confidence with which it was asserted publicly. Firstly there was absolutely no reason for them to have made this statement. They had acknowledged the complaint and switched off the drilling and had a happy neighbour as a consequence. They need not have done anything further. And then to flagrantly lie for no reason! My mind immediately wandered to what else could they been less than equivocal about in the past. The quality of their food? The pricing of their hotel rooms? The smile which seemed genuine when they greeted me at the door but may actually have not been the real deal? And in a fraction of a moment, a  reputation built assiduously over decades lay tattered and torn to shreds in my mind!

The unfortunate reality is that today; lying, quoting mistruths, subverting facts and spreading fake news has become such an embedded part of our system and social fabric that we end up doing it easily and with verve, our senses inured in the ability to distinguish the right from the wrong, the correct from the not-so-correct. Everything is in a grey precinct of half-truths and partial facts, and sadly we have all become comfortable living in that twilight zone.

But it was not always so.

I remember being told stories about Raja Harishchandra and the importance of being honest, about Mahatma Gandhi and his incessant search for truth. As children we were warned that lying was such a deadly sin that even white lies were not pardonable, and minor exaggerations were an inevitable slow dance towards hell. Somewhere in my mid-twenties when someone once asked me my CTC, I rounded it off to the nearest thousand. This gave me such bouts of indigestion, and nightmares about being burnt in Dante’s Inferno, that I sheepishly called him up the next morning to tell him what my exact salary was, right up till the 9th decimal point. He was quite taken aback and puzzled, but I slept the peaceful sleep of the virtuous after my confession.

In contrast, we have the culture of today, were “lies, dammed lies” is routine practice and considered an acceptable defending tactic, a marketing strategy that can be adopted with impunity. Our politicians deploy it with confidence, our celebrities with charm, and our entrepreneurs with boldness. As long as lies, half-truths and fuzzy data points are used repeatedly and with coolness and conviction, it is a matter of mere time before they start getting hardwired into the narrative. After a point who has the time to separate fact from fiction in this cornucopia of information that we are bombarded with every second of every day? The world (and Twitter) has moved onto the next topic of interest.

It also made me think that as a species we take so much of the world around us on trust. We trust that the organic food put on our table is genuinely so, the restaurants’ kitchen is as hygienic as our own, that the handwoven linen dress has not passed through any machine loom on its way to us. We trust that when the Rs 500 note has RBI’s promise embedded on it, our Central Bank will abide by it, and when the pilot takes off with such assurance he genuinely knows how to fly. That is why we moved from the jungle to stay in settlements – so that we could stay in environments that were safe and trustworthy. Not having to watch over our shoulders constantly to see where the predator would arrive from, mistrusting every sound, every movement of the bushes around us. But indeed if chip by chip, one falsehood at a time, we whittle away this trust amongst each other maybe we should have taken our chances in the jungle? Or are we living in a jungle already?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Apurva Purohit

The author is President of the Jagran Group

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