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Truths, Half-Truths and Lies in Various Shades

Truths, half-truths and lies

Truths, half-truths and lies in various shades fill our lives. There is but only one absolute truth, a human body once born must die.

The stage all set for the quiet drama involving truths, half-truths and lies

I got down on a nearly empty small railway station with my heavy backpack and shoulder bag. My coach was in front part of the train. I was about to step on to the first step of the over-bridge going out of the station when I noticed a man occupying the single bench. What attracted my attention was, he was smoking a bidi with a quiet smile on his face. He was enjoying his smoke and a pleasant thought must have been on his mind. All around sound of swishing tree leaves, a few people scattered here and there and bird calls in a winter noon floating in the air.

Suddenly, I noticed two Railway Police-men a little distance away approaching the spot. As I was standing to his right, I could see the policemen. Another glance confirmed that they did not see him yet. They were chatting while walking without any thought of catching the crime of smoking a bidi on a railway platform.

I knew it is an offense to smoke on a railway platform. A person will be fined Rs.200/- if caught smoking.

I didn't want to spoil the quiet enjoyment the man was having. Making up my mind, in a low voice I cautioned him about the approaching policemen. The man immediately threw down the nearly finished bidi to the hard cemented platform ground and crushed it under his left foot. Without any delay, he quickly removed the foot and regained a completely casual nonchalant composure.

It was close, I thought. But to my surprise, instead of moving on, the policemen stopped near him. They must have had a glimpse of his throwing down the bidi and crushing it. They straightaway came to the point. In a slightly threatening tone they charged him, "You were smoking on the platform? Don't you know it is forbidden. You'll be fined."

The man turned towards them with great surprise. Apparently he never knew about the policemen till they spoke to him. He replied, "Sorry, you made a serious mistake. I wasn't smoking. Just resting here for a few minutes." The policemen hesitated. Then both me and the man understood clearly that the policemen only suspected, but were not fully sure. They bent down and inspected the ground around the bench. This time instead of leaving I stood nearby. I could clearly see two stubs of bidis on the platform ground close to the bench.

The policemen pointed at the stubs. Now their tone has changed to harsh, threatening, "Then what are these?" One of them looked at the man pointing at the stubs. "Who smoked these bidis?" That was the opening for the man. He bent down showing his curiosity and discovered the stubs with complete innocence. More confident now he calmly countered, "I told you I didn't smoke. And how can I know who sat on this bench before me and smoked these bidis! How can anyone know?"

With a slight pause he continued, "First you accused me of smoking a bidi, and now you think I smoked two bidis!"

The policemen grumbled, conferred among themselves for a few minutes and finally with a glare at the man left him.

I also followed them on the over-bridge, but keeping apart a little distance. Who can say, on a sudden brainwave, they could turn round and ask for my opinion.

Unfortunately, in all incidents I remember, I did not lie. There is some force in me that stops me from lying. Sure that I was guilty of cautioning the man enjoying his pleasant moment. But a fine of Rs.200/- is miniscule to the gigantic Indian Railways. I didn't feel least bit of guilt.

Reaching the top steps of the over-bridge, I turned to find the now relieved man still there. Then the idea of a half-truth just popped in my mind. The policemen directly pointed at the stubs and asked, who smoked these. Instead of lying outright, the man could have replied them with a half-truth, "I don't know who smoked these bidis. How could I know who sat on this bench before me!" instead of outright lying, "I did not smoke."

I knew long back that no man can know himself even by a fraction, let alone fully. But I have a devious mind with many useless pieces of knowledge scattered here and there in my mind. A common man won't know, or to be more precise, won't admit this lack of self knowledge.

I was quite impressed, surprised and horrified by Yudhisthira's timeless half-truth in Mahabharata. I first read it when young. Later, I read a long version of it slowly.

By this time, I know there is nothing in this human world that is completely true barring the only exception called death of human body.

Absolute truth

Wikipedia: There is no such thing as absolute truth.

Biggest truth in life: Everything is impermanent:

Material and emotion are impermanent – this is the biggest truth of life. When you leave this world, there is nothing you can take to the cemetery or the cremation ground. All that goes is the tears and love of the ones you left behind.

What is the meaning of a half-truth?

  1. A statement that is only partially true.
  2. A statement that mingles truth and falsehood with deliberate intent to deceive.

The Half-Truth Effect and Its Implications for Sustainability

A valuable link about half-truth with the above title is here.

“The lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies.”

An excerpt:

Is Tennyson’s observation accurate? Are half-truths more insidious than lies that are not associated with truths? If so, what are the boundary conditions of the half-truth effect? What are the implications of the half-truth effect for understanding misinformation campaigns more generally, and how can people protect themselves from the half-truth effect? The present research addresses these questions by proposing that consumers process misinformation in a way that conforms to Tennyson’s quote. This new phenomenon can be called as the half-truth effect ​and offer some insights into the moderation of the new proposed half-truth effect.

Examples of half-truths

Statement: I was just driving by your house and saw that your mailbox is broken.

This seems truthful ... but the speaker actually saw that the mailbox was broken because he hit it with his car while driving. The half-truth makes the speaker seem innocent.

Yudhisthira in Mahabharata

Yudhisthira was the man who would never lie. But to stop Drona marauding among the Pandava Senas, none other than Krishna suggested the half-truth. A great warrior Aswathama was the dearest son of Drona. First it was arranged to kill an elephant named Aswathama. Then Yudhisthira went to Drona saying loudly, "Aswathama hoto" (Aswathama is dead), and after a brief pause (this is my assumption) "Iti gaja" (who is an elephant). Technically Yudhisthira didn't lie. But the first part of his statement shocked Drona so much he broke down completely and was not in a position to listen to the second part. He left the battlefield. That was one of the turning points in the great war between Pandavas and Kauravas.

The significance of Yudhisthira's half-truth

Krishna was the only incarnate God ever born and he was on the side of Pandavas and gave his crucial advices for a famous win for the Pandavas.

What is behind the phrase "Everything is permitted in war and love."?

It is not necessary then to tell the truth always.

In real life, stark truths are mostly unwelcome

A great example is "The Idiot" by Dostoevsky. The idiot didn't understand the crucial importance of always making politically correct statements. This concept of politically correct statements as we usually get from all our acquaintances protect us from facing stark truths which is very hard to face.

Half-truths are then in-built in modern human society.

The answer to the very common question "How are you?"

I feel uncomfortable when someone asks me, "How are you?" Whatever way I answer, it must always be a half-truth at the best. One cannot express the complete truth ever.

But this is harmless innocuous half-truths.

The half-truths that intentionally hide dark truths are the most damaging

In any advertisement we see in bold large letters the few main selling points that attract the common people. But below the large bold main points, there woud always be "Conditions apply" in very small letters, though the conditions are never elaborated.

The truth about 25% off printed boldly in large  letters and a prefix of "up to" in small letters in medicine shops

The medicine shop I like not because it gives 25% discount in general, but it always had the medicine I need and it is open 7 days a week, that too up to 1 am.

up to 25 percent off

A great example of half-truth is the recent phenomenon of COVID vaccine

On every COVID vaccine phial, a disclaimer was printed in very small letters meaning somewhat like, "We are not responsible for any consequences of taking the vaccine." And indeed there were many deaths after taking the vaccines. A few  mainstream news are on the cases lodged by affected people against the vaccine makers.

About the vaccine, I can only say, it was an impossibility to assure complete protection against COVID by the vaccine. And indeed no vaccine claimed complete protection. The impossibility of efficacy of COVID vaccine is very clear from the fact that, by the time the vaccine is produced and introduced for mass use, the virus had mutated.

And there are Hidden Truths

Hidden truths are hidden by the State or large Coporates for furthering malafide intentions and profiteering, mainly in terms of huge monetary gains. One of the great examples of hidden truth is,

"In sum, it was the Dutch who led the way in enmeshing opium with colonialism, and in creating the first imperial narco-state, heavily dependent on drug revenues. But it was in India that the model of the colonial narco-state was perfected by the British."

page 41 - Smoke and Ashes by Amitav Ghosh.

Concluding remarks, A question and its answer

Question: Is it true that in human society stark truths are severely frowned upon?


Yes, in human society, stark truths can often be met with discomfort, resistance, or disapproval. While honesty and transparency are valued virtues, the reality is that some truths can be difficult to accept. Here are a few reasons why stark truths may be frowned upon:

1.  Social Conventions and Politeness:

  • Social norms encourage politeness, and sometimes revealing harsh truths can be seen as impolite or offensive.
  • People often prefer to maintain a harmonious atmosphere rather than confront uncomfortable realities.

2.  Emotional Impact:

  • Stark truths can evoke strong emotions such as fear, anger, or sadness.
  • People may avoid discussing these truths to protect themselves or others from emotional distress.

3.  Cognitive Dissonance:

  • When faced with information that contradicts their existing beliefs or worldview, individuals experience cognitive dissonance.
  • To reduce this discomfort, they may reject or ignore the stark truth.

4.  Fear of Repercussions:

  • Revealing certain truths can have consequences, such as damaging relationships, losing trust, or facing legal issues.
  • Fear of these repercussions may lead people to withhold or downplay the truth.

5.  Maintaining Social Harmony:

  • Society relies on shared narratives and collective beliefs to function smoothly.
  • Stark truths that challenge these narratives can disrupt social harmony.

However, it’s essential to recognize that facing uncomfortable truths is crucial for personal growth, societal progress, and ethical decision-making.

Balancing honesty with empathy and sensitivity is essential to navigate these complexities.