Just a quick post (I’ve had endless mechanical failures at my end, ranging from the dishwasher to the computer) to note the passing of Adrienne Rich. I actually don’t read much poetry, but Rich also wrote essays. There’s a book called On Lies, Secrets and Silence that includes an essay called Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying.
It’s an essay I read with some regularity and it sets forth some principles I try to live by. What Rich suggests (as I recall) is that we typically lie for selfish reasons. We may say that we lie to protect others, but what we really mean is that we lie to protect ourselves from having to deal honestly with others. If we are honest we may have to deal with difficult issues and messy things like hurt feelings. Lying allows you to evade the messiness.
I don’t take Rich’s essay to mean you should never lie. It does seem to me that there is a place for what we often call a white lie–the “yes, I like that picture you just bought for your living room” sort of lie. But I do take it to mean we should always be mindful when we consider lying and we should appreciate the extent to which it is selfish and self-serving. Most of the time the better course is to be honest and then deal with the consequences that follow from honesty.
I mention the topic of lying here because there have been many conversations about honesty here. I have more than once been accused of lying or at least supporting lying here. It’s an accusation that always gives me pause. I suppose people may disagree about what it means to be honest or what honesty requires. (Remember that I don’t think honesty requires me to tell the soccer coach how my child was conceived, though I wouldn’t actively tell a lie about it either.) For the moment, though, I just want to pause to pay tribute to Adrienne Rich and what she has to teach us. It’s worth finding a copy of that essay to read–or to reread, as the case may be.