The Decline of the Art of Lying | Humor Podcast

Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast, brought to you in part by Book of Zen, makers of wearable inspiration for a better world. In today’s podcast we are going to switch gears a little and celebrate the art of humor with an adaptation of the essay titled “On the Decay of the Art of Lying” by Mark Twain, published in 1880…..

Let me begin by clarifying that when I say the art of lying is in decline, I do not mean to suggest that the custom of lying has suffered any interruption—no, for the Lie, as a Virtue, a Principle, is eternal; the Lie, as a recreation, a solace, a refuge in time of need, the fourth Grace, the tenth Muse, man’s best and surest friend, is immortal, and cannot perish from the earth while the human species remains.

My complaint simply concerns the decline of the ART of lying. No high-minded soul, no individual of right feeling, can contemplate the lumbering and slovenly lying of the present day without grieving to see a noble art so prostituted. If I were in the presence of politicians, I would naturally enter upon this theme with diffidence. For if this finest of the fine arts had everywhere received the attention, the encouragement, and conscientious practice and development which with the politician has devoted to it, I should not need to utter this lament, or shred a single tear. I do not say this to flatter our congressman and governors: I say it in a spirit of just and appreciative recognition.

Every politician will tell you (after first checking that no one else is within earshot) that no fact is more firmly established than that lying is a necessity of our circumstances, and thus it is a virtue. However, no virtue can reach its highest usefulness without careful and diligent cultivation—therefore, it goes without saying that this one ought to be taught in the public schools and even in the media (which has long mastered the art).

After all, what chance has the ignorant uncultivated liar against the educated expert? What chance have I against a lawyer? Judicious lying is what the world needs. I sometimes think it is even better and safer not to lie at all than to lie impulsively. An awkward, unscientific lie is often as ineffectual as the truth.

This argument is nothing new. Note that venerable proverb: Children and fools always speak the truth—which means adults and wise persons never speak it. I remember a historian who one said, “The principle of truth may itself be carried into absurdity. Thus the truth should not be spoken at all times; and those whose sick conscience worries them into habitual violation of this maxim are imbeciles and nuisances.”

It is strong language, but true. None of us could live with a habitual truth-teller; but thank goodness none of us has to. A habitual truth-teller is simply an impossible person; they do not exist; they never have existed. Of course there are people who think they never lie, but it is not so—and this ignorance is one of the very things that shame our so-called civilization.

Everybody lies—every day; every hour; awake; asleep; in your dreams; in your joy; in your mourning. If you keeps your tongue still, your hands, your feet, your eyes, your attitude, will convey deception—and purposefully.

When the art of lying is practiced to perfection, it is beautiful, it is noble; for its object is not to reap profit, but to convey a pleasure to others—while the iron-souled truth-monger relishes inflicting totally unnecessary pain. In days gone by, we once had a thousand pleasant ways of lying that grew out of gentle impulses, and were a credit to our intelligence and an honor to our hearts…..

Read The Entire Essay in Evergreen: 50 Inspirational Life Lessons

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