Do I want you to lie to me? Tell me fabulist fantasies that we step inside and inhabit like the imaginary homes of children playing “House?” In a sense, yes, I do.
You could say we lie to each other all the time. We have a vain tendency to love lies, the ones that can’t hurt us but instead flatter us. These are what I would ask you to tell me. Don’t tell me the Truth. Just tell me “your truth.” Lie pretty to me.
The easiest way to draw the distinction between the Truth and the pretty little lies of “your truth,” is to seize upon meaning from something we all know, understand and hold deep in our hearts: a song.
Any song you love will do the trick. But it has to be a song you’ve heard more than one person sing. Imagine the one you love, and listen to it for a moment as it plays in your mind.
I picked Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas.” Have fun with it.
Okay. Now, switch the singers. Imagine the second singer making the song theirs. Again, listen for a moment to the song.
I picked the Dead Kennedys doing their version of “Viva Las Vegas.” It’s a totally different song than when Elvis rocks it out. If you imagined two different singers, I bet you noticed:
It’s not the song, it’s the singer.
The Truth of a song, or let’s call it the emotional Truth of a song, would only be True for the person who wrote it. The lyrics and melody are an expression of them.
But then along comes Nat King Cole and he sings the song and it’s achingly beautiful.
Is it still True? Well, if there is only one Truth, and since it’s not his song to begin with, then a song can only be True for the original songwriter.
However, when Nat King Cole puts his heart and soul into a song he sang he gave it “his truth” and that’s why we connect to it. That’s what makes it a pretty little lie. We’re happy to hear it because Nat sang so pretty. It’s a harmless little trifle of a lie — a pop love song. We happily accept his lie as flattery, because Nat sang his song to us. His lie makes us feel better because it brings you a sly and sweet joy when you hear him sing.
This same understanding of pretty lies holds true in our real life exchanges just the same as when we listen to Nat croon a love song. We like pretty lies. For instance, you know that a body spray advertisement is a lie. But so is a greeting card. You did not write it. Yet, you give it to someone and pretend as if somehow the words and emotions they represent are yours. Perhaps, you add something, you write a small message, mingling the card’s words and yours. This pretty little lie offers a form of flattery. The recipient feels like this is “your truth.” Of course, they can’t know if it is or isn’t but it feels true.
A mixtape, an old sonnet you send, a meme you share, these are all pretty little lies you use to convey to someone that you care. You use someone else’s expression to convey your heart and soul. Just like Nat King Cole, it’s not the song, it’s the singer.
As you likely quickly surmised, the language we use to express ourselves comes in countless forms. You can use a recipe to seduce a woman. You might send sheet music to tell a man you love him. You could take a picture of clouds bouncing along in the sky over a field of spring flowers; and this picture, sent and reassembled on a smart-phone’s screen, this pretty little lie, tells the receiver you miss them and are thinking of them while you’re camping at your work retreat. Everyday, in a million ways, we use all sorts of things as symbols to build language and lie to people that we love and care about.
To make matters worse, not all lies are pretty. You see how some folks walk the earth spewing verbal manure, fertilizing the fields of opportunity in their favor, controlling the perception of reality by lying to others. This makes it difficult to date or buy a refrigerator. It’s exceedingly frustrating to tell who is lying to us, unless we have sufficient time to spot a pattern of ill behavior or catch an obvious contradiction.
Despite the fact we must endure the damage done by malicious liars, keep in mind that there isn’t just one type of lie. There are as many types of lies as there are stars in the sky. There are good lies and there are bad lies. The falsehoods of a spy that saves the lives of millions are good lies, right? A novel or a film is a collection of beautiful and moving lies. Obviously, there is a spectrum of lies. I like to imagine a rainbow of symbolic falsehoods, with music at one end and mind-control at the other.
We should abhor the dirty, thieving, malicious lies of corruption; and happily defend the pretty little lies of artists and lovers and greeting card-makers. They are very different. The lies of corruption are designed to replace facts, while the pretty lies of lovers and artists are designed to create feeling. For some of you, this must sound like moral relativism. I guess, if you’re into labels, call it what you will. But it’s inarguable that many of the best parts of our world are predicated on pretty little lies. We need them.
A friend of mine likes to pose this question: Would you rather be right or happy?
At first, I thought the question was bullshit and the worst use of moral relativism. I thought he was suggesting we act selfishly since there’s no objective right or wrong. But my friend and Shakespeare agree. As the Bard had Hamlet remind us, “there is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so.” And so, I found that both my friend and Bill Shakespeare were on to something. I saw why his question was far wiser than I’d given my friend credit.
Usually, to be right implies that you know the Truth and the other person is denying it, or arguing against it. To be right also assumes the Truth is knowable. I would caution you against such hubris. Facts are knowable and can be proven. But the Truth seems to evade human detection like silence avoids the Super Bowl.
To be happy suggests your satisfaction is at hand, your mind/body are cooperating, and “you” are in a place of joy, reverence or dedicated labor. Happiness flourishes when your relationship to your inner world and outer world are in a pleasing balance, when your sense of self is unchallenged by fear or negativity.
When we draw it out like that it’s easy to see why we prefer to be happy more than right. Our pretty little lies are like ball bearings beneath the weight of our happiness. They ease its burden and help it roll easily forward into the future.
Make no mistake. I’m not suggesting you lie maliciously to others. Nor am I suggesting you change the details of a story, switch names or dates. Those are lies of corruption, attempts at mind control. You are fertilizing the fields of opportunity in your favor.
Instead, learn to let pretty little lies pass easily over your lips that make the world better not for you, primarily, but for both you and for others. Learn to say, “You know what? You’re right.” Learn to be happy, instead of right.
Art is a lie. Language is a lie. Every sensation you experience is a lie your mind filters, processes and creates for you to “feel.” Like, whatever you see is basically run through 137 Instagram filters before you “feel” so moved by the visual poetry of a sunset. But the fact our lives are shaped by lies should not be depressing. These lies are liberating. All the pretty little lies of life are no different than that moment when you tug over your head a cashmere sweater and you “feel” comfy inside its warmth.
If it’s not the song but the singer, if it’s not what you say but how you say it, since we all struggle with the Truth: How do you best express yourself?
Just lie pretty to me. (We can always look up facts.) Lie to set me free. Tell me “your truth.” And be brave about it. As long as it’s not a crime, let’s forget who was right and who was wrong. Instead, think of what you intend to say, reflect on how I’m likely to hear it, frame it like a photo so I’ll focus on what you wish me to concentrate on, and gift-wrap “your truth” in a pleasing package like the lyrics of a love song. If you tell me you know the Truth, I probably won’t believe you. Lie pretty to me and we’ll all be happy.