In My Own Write: The ring of truth

Lying, the opposite of truth-telling, is regarded as bad; Tact, diplomacy, which involve omission, evasion, are generally viewed as admirable.

By
March 29, 2011 23:36
Diamon Ring

diamond ring _311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

After visiting a friend in the neighborhood, I stopped at the adjacent grocery store to pick up some milk and a tub of cottage cheese. The young man at the counter put them in a bag for me, and I placed it in the trunk of my car.

But when I got home, the only thing in the bag was the milk.

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“The cottage cheese must have stayed in the store,” I told myself regretfully, having planned to incorporate it into that night’s supper.

Several days later, I returned to the makolet, and explained. The same young man looked bewildered, but indicated that I should help myself to another tub of cheese. For the sake of good relations, his gesture seemed to imply, let’s assume the customer (however weird) is always right.

A couple of weeks after that, I was cleaning out the trunk of my car, which sort of dips down toward the back, when my fingers closed around... a tub of cottage cheese.

“Goodness,” I said. “It must have rolled out of the bag and out of sight.” (By then, of course, it was beyond human consumption.)

SO what would you have done? Called it an innocent mistake and shrugged – for what’s a measly tub of cottage cheese to a successful grocery business? – or trudged back to the store and paid those extra few shekels?

The fact that I did go back was not because of any intrinsic virtue on my part, but because the incident nagged at me. I felt as if my balance amid the general flow of things had been upset, as if a hole had been made in the fabric of trust between myself and the makolet assistant – however fleeting our connection – and there was only one way to repair it.

In case you’re thinking, “What a goody-goody,” let me confess that I have been using, for at least two years, a towel I mistakenly took home from the spa of a Dead Sea hotel. My intention has always been to return it, but it hasn’t happened yet.

ALL this talk of towels and cheese is pretty small potatoes, you may argue, when it seems like every day the media are blaring out some new revelation of embezzlement and fraud on a grand scale, often by public officials. Surely a few shekels don’t count very much in the larger scheme of things?

Maybe not. But what about tens of thousands of shekels?

My friend lost her diamond engagement ring last year, and made a claim to the insurance company, which eventually paid her NIS 30,000. Then, one day, her cleaner came across the ring in an otherwise empty carrier bag while dusting the bottom of a closet.

My friend and her husband didn’t hesitate: Feeling by then no great sentimental attachment to the ring, they promptly sent it along to the insurance company – which declared itself astounded. It was the first time, they said, that they could recall anyone doing anything like it. And they sent the couple a huge bouquet of flowers in gratitude.

FORGET my cheese; this last is an example of serious honesty. Because many quite decent people, consciously or unconsciously, would draw a moral line between individuals and large companies. While they wouldn’t dream of defrauding a person, a company feels different, removed.

A big company is faceless, and there’s a sneaking sense that no great harm is being done. Some companies may even “deserve it.”

My friend commented that people they told the story to either “said we were mad,” or “felt that since we had been paying insurance all these years, we deserved to keep the ring.”

(If we’re talking about honesty, let’s not forget the cleaner, who could easily have slipped the diamond ring into her pocket without anyone being the wiser.)

Governments also seem faceless, and all too frequently uncaring. And it’s a truism that they waste colossal amounts of our hard-earned money. That fact makes many people quite comfortable about leaving their assets undeclared and their taxes unpaid – when they can get away with it.

Two questions: If you pay up only out of fear of being caught, does that make you less than honorable? And if you pay up regardless, does that make you a sucker? It might depend on which day of the week you ask.

TOTAL honesty between couples is often touted as something to aspire to. But is it always the best policy?

Many couples pride themselves on being completely open with each other. But when one’s honesty comes slap-bang up against the other’s confidence and self-image, the relationship itself ends up the loser.

Lying – the opposite of truth-telling – is regarded as bad. But tact and diplomacy, which both involve omission and evasion, are generally viewed as admirable.

Clearly, this total honesty business isn’t so simple.

The question most boyfriends and husbands fear is: “Does this dress make me look fat?”

Whatever the truth, I pity the man who says, “Yes.” The one who, instead, answers, “No,” – (white lie) – “but I think the green dress makes you look wonderful; it brings out the color of your eyes,” is being mindful of his partner’s feelings and creating a caring bond.

There is much to be said in favor of the white lie that spares another grief or humiliation.

“In my opinion,” writes one insightful blogger, “clinging to naked brutal honesty even when it will cause pain can at times be an act of selfish egotism rather than a virtue. A person who never tells a white lie is cruel and apparently places a greater value on their own self-image than they do on helping others.

“One should not butcher the truth for selfish reasons or to avoid blame, but a bit of twisting and stretching to spare someone else pain is often OK, especially if you follow the white lie with enough truth to be helpful.”

TO my father, of blessed memory, one dress or outfit looked like every other. The difference between clothed and naked, he could tell; beyond that, all women’s apparel was much of a muchness.

But he knew that my mother cared about her appearance, and he didn’t want to take any chances; so just about every time they went anywhere, he would compliment her on “your lovely new dress.”

We all used to laugh about it.

ONE of the hardest things is to be honest with ourselves, mainly because we are all such masters at rationalizing our motivations and actions. That is why an honest relationship with another person – partner or friend – is such a blessing, provided the honesty is tempered with kindness.

“We should bestow on another person what we would bestow upon a picture,” someone once said, “and that is the advantage of a good light.”

MARK Twain, in 1885, wrote a delightful essay called “On the decay of the art of lying.”

“Lying is universal – we all do it,” he said. “Therefore the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not own own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously...

“Then shall we be great and good and beautiful, and worthy dwellers in a world where even benign Nature habitually lies, except when she promises execrable weather.”


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