Saturday, 14 December 2013

False Friends

By James Kyle

Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language is familiar with the concept of a false friend. Examples in Spanish are constipado meaning a common cold and embarazada meaning pregnant.. It works the other way also. A teacher in Spain was telling me recently how much trouble she was having trying to stop her pupils from complaining that their classmates are molesting them – molestar in Spanish meaning to annoy. And preservativo certainly does not mean preservative in English.

It occurs to me that some of our ingrained beliefs / mental maps should also be seen as false friends. They may seem to be “good ideas” but they actually lead us astray. For example, in a previous article I recommended a book on relationships. I stand by that recommendation in general but not in one particular aspect. The exception is that one of the guidelines this book give is to tell the “microscopic truth.” This originally appealed to me as an ideal that we should all aim for and I readily bought into this as the foundation for a successful relationship. Unfortunately to borrow from the movie "A Few Good Men", the words “the truth ... you can’t handle the truth” applies to too many people. I have subsequently found that telling the absolute truth too readily comes back to haunt you. I should also put this in the context that I have learned to have a very pragmatic approach to belief systems. It is fine to have ideals as an objective but if they do not serve us in the real world then they should be abandoned.

My experience of truthfully admitting to faults I had in the past was that this introduced into the relationship doubts and fears that these would be repeated in the current relationship. And no amount of words arguing the case that I was a different person now made any difference whatsoever. Even worse these doubts resulting from my absolute honesty led to the ludicrous situation where my ongoing honesty was being questioned. I had flaws in the past, and if I had none evident in the present, then it must be because I had resolved to hide them.

Now does this mean that with the right person absolute honesty would not work and it should be abandoned as an ideal to aspire to? Of course not. However the point I am making is to be aware of cherished ideas, “spiritual” or otherwise. So for example, honesty is a good principle, but I would suggest, at times, the concept of the white lie has something to be said for it. This could be to spare someone's feelings, to avoid giving a false impression about yourself, or in general to not damage relationships. For an detailed expansion on these points and an interesting definition of white lies as 'Untruths that reduce net harm' see here.

The underlying constraint, of course, is not to be fooling oneself and allow the white lie to verge into true deceit. The guiding principle is that, while being aware that being 100% truthful may not always be conducive to maintaining relationships, never lose sight of honouring yourself and the other party as an overriding principle. What do you think, do you agree?

P.S. I hope you do appreciate I have been truthful about lying!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

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