My brother-in-law thinks that truth trumps everything – that no relationship can be worthy of that name without both parties being completely truthful and that lies undermine everything both in the public and private sphere.

I couldn’t disagree with him more.

In fact I’m with the late, great, Quentin Crisp in his belief that the very foundation of civil (in the sense of polite) society is founded on lies: after all, only the very young, the very rude or the very stupid never lie. These lies go from the minor, ‘of course your bum doesn’t look big in that’, through to the serious, ‘of course the chemo is working’.

Ah, but these are white lies I hear you think. Yes, but untruths nonetheless and the ayatollah for truth, my brother-in-law, would say that there can be no exceptions – except maybe the bum bit; I know this because I’ve heard him do it. I would push this further and say that there is only so much truth the human condition can take. Politicians know this as they refuse, for example, to tell us the that the welfare state as it stands cannot continue. If we won’t hear the truth, why tell it? The aphorism that more marriages have been wrecked by honesty than any infidelity is surely so powerful because we sense its veracity. As Graham Greene said 'In human relations, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.' Lies, big and small, don’t make the world go round – but they oil the joints.

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