Mark Twain, in one of his stories, says of a character that whatever statement he chose to make was entitled to prompt and unquestioning acceptance as a lie. There are a great many kinds of liars and a great many ways of lying. Mrs. Opie once undertook to classify lies, as lies of vanity; lies of flattery; lies of convenience; lies of interest; lies of fear; lies of malignity; lies of malevolence, and lies of wantonness.
Mark Twain, in taking account of stock, counts eight hundred and sixty-nine varieties of lies. We all know the foolish liars who lie without motive from force of habit. We can understand a person's lying when they have a strong motive for it, but to lie without any purpose whatever seems to the normal mind an unintelligible thing.
A very large class of liars are liars of carelessness, thoughtlessness; people who do not mean to lie, who are honest enough, but who are slipshod in their mental processes. Their observation is faulty; they do not see or hear things with exactitude; do not see or hear them as they are. This comes from not taking pains to get the exact facts about anything into their heads.
One of the most pernicious liars is the flatterer, the one who cannot bear to wound you on your weak point. Then there is the polite liar, who prevaricates and deceives in order to be courteous. They want you to think well of them and want to make you feel good. They would rather deceive you than tell you unwelcome truths. Vanity liars cannot bear to tell the truth when it reflects upon themselves or does not flatter their vanity. These liars may be believed in anything which does not reflect on themselves or put them in an unfavorable light.
The so-called benevolent liars often escape condemnation because their motives are good. A good-natured person, compelled to dismiss an employee, will sometimes give an undeserved recommendation, quite unconscious of the injury thus done a later employer.
Slander, the blackest of all the falsehood family, does not always require a lying tongue, there are a thousand ways of lying. A person may lie by their silence, by not telling the truth when it is their duty to speak. A person may lie by telling part of the truth. They may lie by their manner, by insinuations, by inference, by a shrug off the shoulders or a glance of the eye.
One of the most pitiable of all liars is the weak liar, who has not moral stamina enough to tell the truth when it is disagreeable. Liars of this brand do not want to argue or defend their position; they go along the line of least resistance, prevaricate and deceive, because there is not lime enough in the backbone to enable them to stand straight and look a person in the face and tell them unpleasant truths.
They would rather make them feel good at the time, and prefer that they find out the truth when they do not have to meet his or her gaze. I know people who mean to be absolutely honest who can never tell the exact truth when it requires a little moral courage, and cowards are always liars. They do not lie because they are bad, but because they are too weak to speak the truth.
It takes courage to tell the truth when you know that it may place you in an unfortunate light before the world, and that a little prevarication or a little innuendo may save you pain. It takes courage and character to tell the truth when to do so will be a temporary loss to you. It takes courage and manliness, womanliness, to tell the truth when it gives a decided advantage to a rival. It takes courage to stand up squarely, with an unflinching eye, to look the world in the face and tell the straight, unvarnished truth, regardless of consequences.
The reputation of being beyond price, of being unshaken by any selfish motive; the reputation of always, everywhere, under all circumstances telling the truth—not pretty nearly, but the exact truth—is worth a thousand times more to one than any temporary gain from deceit.
A very unfortunate phase of our modern journalism is the temptation to tamper with truth, to color, distort, misrepresent it, to make a great thing out of a little thing. The reputation of a newspaper is like that of an individual. The newspaper which constantly, knowingly deceives very soon gets the same kind of reputation as a consummate liar.
There are few newspapers in the world which refuse to color the truth, to tamper with facts in order to make a sensation, but these few are the solid pillars of journalism. They stand for infinitely more in their community than some other papers with a hundred times more circulation.
One of the most dangerous characters in the business world is the man who has no vigor of integrity, who is indifferently honest, who prefers to be on the side of the not tell quite the whole truth if his interests are jeopardized. He may not lie outright, but he may leave untold a truth which he should tell, and which a gentleman would tell; but in the end what such a man gains cannot be compared with what he loses.
He does not realize that although he may make a little more money, he is less of a man every time he misrepresents; that while he may be adding something to his pocket he is taking something away from his manhood.
How often, too, the crooked, lying man or institution finds that crooked methods do not pay, and that even as a working principle honesty is the best policy. Look at the history of business concerns in this country and see how very few of those which were doing a great business fifty years ago are even in existence today.
Many of them sprang up like mushrooms, made a good deal of noise in the business world, did lots of faking, deceptive advertising, and flourished for a while, attracting a great deal of attention, but they did not last long because there was no character back of them. They were not reliable, and, after successfully deceiving their customers for a time, they were found out. Then they began to shrink and shrivel, and ultimately went to the wall.
Still, a great many people believe in the expediency of the lie as a policy. They believe that it pays to deceive. Many business houses which are regarded as pretty honest cover up defects in goods and write misleading advertisements. There are many people who think that deception in business is just about as necessary as money capital. They believe that it is very difficult, practically impossible, for any person to succeed in a large way and always tell the exact truth about everything.
Not long ago a superintendent in a large dry-goods house said that he had been busy all the previous day cutting up whole bales of cloth for remnants. He said that people would willingly pay more for these 'remnants' when advertised as such, because of the deceptive suggestion that they were cheap, than they would to buy the material by the yard.
Now, how long will the public continue to patronize such a house after once discovering this deception? The same principle is true of the bargain sales. Merchants often sell inferior goods at more than their regular price during these sales, because they know the power of suggestion in advertising to deceive.
There is a great deal of the Indian in all of us. We do not forget favors, kindnesses, or injuries. On the ground of the weakness of all human nature, we may often forgive things which still sting, but when we have once been deceived by a business house, a traveling salesman, a solicitor, or a clerk, we do not forget it, and that house or clerk loses our confidence forever.
Most young men overestimate the value of mere shrewdness, cunning, long-headedness, smartness, keenness. They seem to think that if they are going to get ahead rapidly they must not be too scrupulous about the exact truth; that a little deception, a little cunning will help them along faster; that if they veer this way and that from the truth—just enough to avoid disagreeable experience— to make themselves popular, to make everybody feel good, they will be alright.
There could not be a greater mistake, for if there is anything weak and doomed to failure by the very laws of the universe, it is misrepresentation. It never yet has won in the long run, and real success is as impossible by it as is the reversal of the law of gravitation.
Misrepresentation in any form is the shortest sighted policy in the world. No man ever built up a permanent position or institution upon it, or ever will, for the man who gets a temporary advantage by misrepresentation makes everybody who finds it out his enemy ever after. It is human nature never fully to trust a person again who has once deceived us.
Is there any power in cunning, in shrewd, long-headed, deceptive methods that can for a moment compare with the truth, with absolute integrity?
There is no advertisement in the world, in the long run, that can compare with that which comes from the reputation of always and everywhere telling the exact truth, of being absolutely reliable. This reputation alone has made the names of some of the great business houses in this country worth millions of dollars.
Every time a person deceives they know that they have to cover their tracks. They are always on thorns for fear of discovery, for everything in their own nature is trying to betray them; but when they tell the truth, because they are built on the truth plan, they have all the universe sustaining, supporting, backing them. What a difference there is between the power of a person who is telling the truth and is conscious that he or she is backed by the eternal principle of right and justice, and the one who is lying and is conscious of it!
One can look the world in the face without wincing, because he or she feels that they are backed by eternal principle; there is victory in their eye, assurance in their very bearing, while there is something within the other person which says, "I am a liar; I am not a real person. I know I am not a real person, but a sneak, a make-believe."
The moment we attempt to express that which is not true, we are crippled, for we are doing an unnatural thing and are not reinforced by the consent of all our faculties. The best thing in us, the divine thing, protests against the false.
No person can be really strong when in the wrong. Everything within rebukes them; everything tells them of their cowardice. Truth is man's normal state, deception is a cultivated, abnormal thing. There is no substitute for the right. Cunning cannot take its place, nor can education. A person may have great ability and a college education, but if they do not ring true, if there is any evidence of counterfeit about them they never get our confidence, our order, our business, or our patronage.
There is always a question mark in our minds when we have dealings with a person who is not perfectly honest. We are not sure of them. On the other hand, a person may lack education, culture, even refinement; but if he or she has an honest heart, if they ring true every time, we believe in them; we trust them.
No individual can look honest and long give the impression of honesty when they are a habitual scoundrel. It is only a question of time when something will happen to tear off their mask and reveal the real person.
Just look at the person who has practiced deceit and lying all their life. There is not a line of truth in their face. Their very expression is false. They radiate dishonesty from every pore. They may attempt to deceive with their smooth, honeyed diplomacy, but we instinctively feel that they are a liar in every part of their being.
It does not matter how he or she tries to cover up their rottenness by appearances of respectability, their clothes, their money; they cannot long continue to cheat the heart. What they say about themselves contradicts what we feel.
A perfectly truthful person regards honor first; their interest comes later. Truth is everything to them. Justice must be done, no matter if it goes against their own interests.
Man is constructed along the lines of truth, and he cannot violate his nature without showing it by the loss of the best thing in him. The liar's deception destroys his self-respect, and with it goes his confidence; and what can a man accomplish who cannot respect himself or believe in himself?
Why is it that a single man without wealth or position has so often exerted marvelous power in the world? Simply because he was supported by principle; because one man with the right is always a majority and can stand against the world, for principle is invincible. One man in the right has often been more than a match for tens of thousands in the wrong.
This was what made Lincoln such a giant; he always stood for truth and justice. He believed what he said, and he knew that the very structure of the universe was backing him.
He would never take a case unless he believed that his side was in the right. He knew that the advocate on the other side would always be placed at a disadvantage by trying to make others believe what they did not believe themselves; that they would be weak at best, no matter how great an orator they might be. Lincoln knew there was something backing him that was greater than oratory, mightier than words, and which multiplied his natural ability thousandfold.
Right speaks with the force of law. The world listens when truth speaks through a man like Lincoln, who was entrenched in principle backed by the right. Not all of the mighty force which made him a giant among his fellows was generated in his own grain. There was a power back of him loaned from justice, from right, which made him invincible; a power which all men forfeit the moment they forsake truth, principle.
When a man feels that he is buttressed by the right, entrenched in truth, he does not feel weak, although the whole world may be against him. He feels the everlasting arms about him, because he knows that nothing can stand against principle; nothing can be so mighty as the right.
One of the mysteries of the ages has been the marvel of men going to the stake smiling, without a tremor; standing calm and serene while the flames were licking the flesh from their bones. They were supported by a power back of the flesh, but not of it; by the conviction that they were in the right.
They did not feel alone or weak, for they were entrenched in eternal principle. They believed that they were protected by the Almighty, and nothing could shake their confidence or disturb their faith. Their exalted mental condition lifted them even above the pain of physical torture.
The person who goes through the world sailing under false colors, trying to make black appear white, will always have a hard time of it. Nobody will long believe them, no matter how smooth their tongue, how long-headed or cunning they may be. Things are so planned that if an individual is ever to get very far or to accomplish very much in this world they must be honest, for the whole structure of natural law is pledged to defeat the lie, the sham. Only the right, ultimately, can succeed.
What would you think of a man who tries to defeat the laws of mathematics? He is a bigger fool who tries to get ahead of right, tries to defeat justice by lying and deceit. No man ever yet got around God, good, justice, right. It is true a man may get something in the wrong, — so may a thief. But the wrong always defeats itself because it has no principle in it. A man in the wrong is out of place for the same reason that discord is out of place in the presence of harmony.
Not long ago nine students were suspended at Brown University for cribbing in their examinations. A great many well-intentioned students lie by cribbing in all sorts of ways in their recitations and examinations. They put formulae and figures and suggestions and all sorts of helps upon their cuffs and shirt bosoms, finger nails and paper rolls, to help them during their recitations or examinations, thus laying foundations for future forms of deceit and dishonesty on a large scale, which may ultimately ruin them.
Many prosperous businessmen who are very conscientious about telling verbal lies are consummate liars in the deceits they work into their manufactures, their commodities. I know a man who is always talking to his sons about telling the truth, yet he has for nearly half a century been selling lies in his store, boxes of lies, barrels of lies, lies in 'foreign' silks made in New Jersey, and all sorts of 'imported' articles.
American liars in high places have recently had the flashlight of public scrutiny turned upon them. Men who not long ago stood high in the American regard are worse than nobodies today, for they are despised by their fellow men.
Does it pay to sell one's birthright for a little mess of pottage? Veracity to a man should be as priceless as virtue to a woman. When he has lost truthfulness and the reputation for it, he is a burned-out man, a mere shell, like one of our great skyscrapers gutted by fire. Does it pay to take chances with one's reputation? Nothing can compensate the lily for a smirch upon its whiteness; nothing can compensate the rose for the loss of its perfume and beauty.
What is a man good for when the best thing in him is rotten, when all that makes him a man, all that marks him from the brute, is decayed? We might as well call a composition full of discordant notes, played on an instrument jangled out of tune, by the name of music, as to call him, who has violated the fundamental principles of his God-given nature, a man. Just in proportion as a man departs from the law on which he was made—truth—he approaches the brute and should be so classified by all decent people.
Is there a sadder sight in America today than that of so many young men gambling with their reputations, taking chances with their good names, for the sake of a few more dollars or a little notoriety, with as little thought as they would bet on a racehorse? What use is a fortune so gained that wherever the owner goes they will be pointed out as a man who has 'sold out'—sold out his honor, his good name, his friends—everything that a manly man holds dear?