Monday, June 10, 2013

Trying to tell the truth appropriately

I have a friend who is very intelligent and quite witty.  He delights in telling the truth most of the time, which enables him to sometimes tell giant whoppers with a straight face and an honest-sounding voice convincingly.  I suggested he and some friends and I read Sissela Bok's "Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life".  I had heard of the book and thought it might be relevant and of interest.  The group took up the idea and now we are reading it.  Without my friend's playing with truth and our gullibility, I would never have gotten around to this interesting book, its author and her husband.  

I knew that Mrs. Bok was the wife of a president of Harvard University.  I was pretty sure that Mr. Derek Bok is no longer the president and that is true.  Sissela Bok is a philosopher and also has a book on secrecy in our lives.  She was born in Sweden and both of her parents are Nobel prize winners.  I wonder how many people there are or have been in the world with Nobel prize winners for both parents.

I have a habit of purposely trying some of the time to venture into books and writing that I would not normally try.  "Lying" is a good example.  I suggested the book because it seem like a possibility and I had heard of it.  Now, because of it, I know a little more about Sissela Bok, her husband, their background and children and the current president of Harvard.

The author says:

I was repeatedly startled to come across claims in the media that the average person lies ten, twenty, a hundred times a day. How could this be, I wondered, considering that many people say little or nothing in the course of a day, let alone with the intention to mislead anyone?

Bok, Sissela (2011-04-27). Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (Vintage) (Kindle Locations 273-275). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Already early in the book, I learned a name for a phenomenon I have observed: truth-dumping.  You may be acquainted with the practice, sometimes used by daughter on mothers or wife on husband, whereby the exact truth is dropped or dumped without varnish or mincing.  In the Bible (Second book of Samuel), Nathan explains to King David the situation of a man with one wife and a man with many wives:

And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.

12:2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:

12:3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. 12:4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.

12:5 And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.

12:7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

The King James Bible (with book and chapter navigation) (Kindle Locations 8814-8821). Diana Mecum Kindle Edition.

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