Monday, May 14, 2012

I always tell the truth, even when I lie

"I always tell the truth, even when I lie." Tony Montana said those words in Brian De Palma's 1983 film, Scarface. For years I have understood the meaning behind those words but have struggled to put it into words myself. It has a sort of obvious sense for me, but I also tend to think about intentionality (as thought and word) differently.

I realize that we all censure reality. We choose which facts to reveal and which to either leave out or obscure. This is not just in what we tell to others but also what we tell ourselves.

Humans seem to spend a lot of time interpreting reality as opposed to experiencing it. We cannot just take in raw data. We need to place value judgments on facts and contextualize them as we hear them. When we recall that information we recall the entire web of interconnected facts, feelings, intuitions and, of course, biases.

Do we see reality legitimately? Do we recall reality legitimately? More important to our current subject, do we present reality legitimately? No, no and, most certainly, no.

We lie. We lie lie lie. Virtually everything that comes out of our mouths is, in one way or another, a lie. When you tell a story you choose what information to relay.

We edit the information on the way in through what we choose to notice or store as important and the connections we make in our memories. We remember the story in a fantastic but inherently flawed storage device. Our brains tear experience up into little tiny pieces, tag them and re-assemble them whenever recalled. Much of the information is just lost but we fill in with likely data that we make up.

Adrenaline and pain are prime causes for memories to have huge gaping holes. Both of these cause our focus to be refined onto specific details while totally ignoring other details. We do this for solid memories and more so for ones badly recorded to begin with.

When recalling the information, we are bound by context. What part of the memory is important to the current circumstance? When presenting the data we need to match our facts to the flavor of the conversation. How has the conversation moved and what parts of the story illustrate the points that need to be made?

What I am saying is that, even with the best intentions, we are stuck "cleaning up" reality when we recall and present stored memories. We are forced into being somewhat untruthful out of necessity.

So, what does Tony mean by his somewhat iconic statement? I think his real comment was on being really honest. That he has intentions of saying what he means and meaning what he says. Think about dry wit. You may say the opposite of what you mean but are not really lying.

This is not to say we are trying to be dishonest. In my experience most people mostly try to tell most of the truth most of the time.

Tony had a problem with honest dishonesty. Being disingenuous while telling the truth. Perhaps the worst kind of liar is using truth to create untruth. This is a hypocrites honesty.

Tony was announcing to the world that he is not being disingenuous. His words and claims might not be truthful but they are ingenuous (which is a word. I checked). His heart is honest and his intentions are true. True even when he is telling a bold faced lie.

Ladies and gentlemen, I announce here today that I always tell the truth, even when I lie.



  1. It must have been tough to type all that with one hand. (other hand behind back, fingers crossed)

    1. If I followed that I would reply. I really would. Since I did not, I will not. -Josh

    2. Crossing your fingers behind your back excuses yourself from lies told or promises not kept, or so they say.

    3. Why would I need to be excused for being more honest than truth. That is the crux of it. Be honest not truthful. Too many people are disingenuous but truthful. -Josh

  2. Thanks, very good. But can you write an example of this kind of lie? That it is honest but not truthful? Thanks

    1. Say I forget about an appointment and remember it long after I should already be there. I hop in my car and get caught in traffic, which takes ten minutes longer than it normally would.
      When I arrive an hour late, I apologize and explain by saying "I was stuck in traffic".

      I told the truth. I was dishonest.

  3. What a bunch of boring, self-important drivel. Yawn