Lie or Not Lie : A Controversial Daily Question!

The very first lesson a small kid is taught by his parents, even before “charity begins at home” is “do not lie”. But how many of us are born Yuthisthira, someone who prided for his vow of not uttering a single untruth word, but still somewhat failed to withhold it at the time of war? So, is it so much necessary that one cannot do without? Or we all have fallen prey to some inescapable peer pressure that it’s the only the feasible option most of the time?

I do not think I hold adequate enough knowledge to act as a judge of the entire context, but I will just put forward some small extracts from various places and leave it up to the readers to decide what they think an appropriate thing to do.

The Lie that Changed the Outcome of the Greatest War in History

Referring to the greatest Indian Epic, Mahabharata, when Drona asked Yuthistira, with pleading eyes, heart etching with grief, “Tell me, is my son really dead?” Fully aware of the stratagem that opponent may be using to weaken him down, his reliance was on Yuthisthira, who, he knew, would never say anything that is not true. And there when Yuthisthira utters out loud “Yes, Aswathama is dead” but under his breath slowly he says “which is an elephant”.

Well, one may say that he did not lie after all, but didn’t he deceive the person who had laid so much trust in him; the act which led him ‘gain’ a visit to Hell.

But you may rightly argue that a lie said for a “greater good” may not be that a sinful act. Many say also argue that Yuthisthira did not lie after all. What he said can be stated as a “misleading truth”

What did Philosopher Kant has to say about it

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), the German philosopher, widely respected as one of the central figures of modern philosophy throws some light on the confusion. Kant is totally against the concept of “lie”, but according to him, there is a huge difference between “a white lie” and a “misleading truth”, even though both have the same consequences.

Let me give the example given by Harvard University Professor, Michael Sandel, during his lectures on “Justice”. He puts forwards the following situation:

Suppose there is a murderer at the door demanding the whereabouts of your friend whom you are safely hiding in your house. You know that it is wrong to lie, but does that mean you will let do the life of your friend? Or you may say the truth in a way, it misleads the murderer.

Kant never based morality on consequences, but on the formal adherence to the moral law. But sometimes stuck in difficult situations in life, we are bound to take some exceptional step against “lying with a white lie” but instead cover it up with “a misleading truth”.

But Life is A Repetitive Game

In our life, we cannot consider any incident as an isolated static game. Life can be a put forward more rightly as a dynamic game. And every action we take today will have consequences in the future. I will give a brief description of an exercise that we were made to do by our Strategic Business Negotiation professor at IIM Lucknow.

The class was divided into four groups (four states, say, and one member from each group was elected as the CM). Each CM is given two cue cards: one with a capital X and the other with a capital Y. The professor acts as venture capitalist and gives the CMs of four states the following options:

  1. 1.      If there are 4 ‘Y’s, then each state will get 1 million each
  2. 2.      If there are 3 ‘Y’s and 1 ‘X’s, the states will ‘Y’ will be giving up 1 million  each and the state with ‘X’ will gain 3 million
  3. 3.      If there are 2 ‘Y’s and 2 ‘X’s, the states will ‘Y’ will be giving up 2 million  each and the states with ‘X’ will gain 2 million each
  4. 4.      If there are 1 ‘Y’s and 3 ‘X’s, the state will ‘Y’ will be giving up 3 million  and the states with ‘X’ will gain 1 million each
  5. 5.      If there are 4 ‘X’s, then each state will give up 1 million each

The process will be carried out without any inter-state negotiation and there will be around 10 rounds. Well, if one following the ‘minimizing the maximum loss’ strategy of game theory, everyone will have the urge of choosing X.

Now, at the end of 4 rounds when the 4 CMs are allowed to come forward for a strategy building meeting before commencement of the 5th round, it is not hard to predict that all must have agreed to choose the ‘Y’ cue card.

But what if 1 state breaks the trust and choses the ‘X’ cue card at 1 round!

It is a bet that how aggressive the later negotiations may be, how badly the CM of that state may want to convince the others that he will never chose ‘X’ again, all the remaining rounds of the game will end up with the same result : 4 ‘X’s.

Trust once broken can never be gained again!

So, going back, if by any miracle Drona survived, would he ever trust Yuthisthira again? Putting in a humorous way, say the murderer again come to your house looking for your friend, can you again mislead him? Well, everyone knows the answer!

Still why do we sometimes need the irresistible temptation to lie or break one’s trust to achieve some temporary gains or some head-start? May be a false resume can offer us a better package than we truly deserve (on words of a friend of mine), but think of this moment once:

Years later, when your own kid comes up to you and say “Dad, you are awesome! I want to be like you!” Deep down, may be, it will hit really hard.

Again, as I said, I am not the right candidate to judge individual choice. But I know that an individual is the best judge of his own behavior. I think that we will be disrespecting ourselves the most if we have to take the assistance of any wrong path to achieve something; both in professional and personal life.

Finally again, I am not the best judge for choices made by intelligent individuals!

Debasmita Das

Final Year PDGM Student @ IIM Lucknow