How Much of the Truth do We Owe to Others?

Today someone told me I was evil. It wasn’t a joke — the person meant it — and I had no response to that.

Being called an evil woman sounds much more romantic than what I am — someone who’s doing the best she can in a world gone awry. I admit my efforts sometimes fall flat, and once in a great while I make a given situation worse rather than better, especially when my loyalties are divided. As do we all. But that’s not being evil. That’s being human.

I don’t believe I’m evil, but the reason I couldn’t find a response to the accusation is that it made me wonder: If I am evil, would I know?

Think of all the wars begun in the name of God. Think of all the prejudice fomented by religious folk who adhered too closely to the dictates of the Old Testament. Think of all the pregnant teenagers thrown out into the snow by self-righteous parents. Think of all the people who have harmed others in the name of doing the “right” thing. Did any of these people believe they were evil? Of course not. I’m sure the devil wouldn’t even consider himself (or herself) evil. Like all villains, he/she is the hero of his/her own story. In his/her mind, he/she is the true force of the universe, while God is the evil one.

UntitledgThis person who believes I am evil based the assessment of me partly on lies I supposedly told, though I have no idea what those lies are. They can’t mean much in the big scheme of things, because I never lie for malicious purposes, though I do occasionally lie to protect me or someone else. And anyway, how much of the truth do we owe others? For example, if someone asks our weight, do we owe him/her the truth? If the person asking is a doctor or a health insurance company, of course, we owe them the truth, just as they owe us the truth about our medical condition, but otherwise divulging information about our weight is not a requirement. Offering a lie, perhaps giving a weight we are comfortable acknowledging, is usually more tactful and much easier than a direct refusal to answer.

We often lie without thinking about it, such as exaggerating our accomplishments a bit so that we come across both to ourselves and to others as being better than we are, but so often these lies are nothing more than hopes verbalized. Sometimes we downplay our accomplishments in the name of modesty. And sometimes we “fudge” the truth, not telling the truth, but not telling a direct lie, either, though the result is the same — a deception.

When it comes to friendship and other relationships, we do owe a certain amount of truth, especially the truth of who we are, but we don’t owe that truth to strangers or to those who don’t have our best interests at heart. In a perfect world, perhaps, we could tell everyone the truth, but in our particular world, divulging too much about ourselves is risky. And it’s especially risky when the person who is asking for our truth is not willing to give up any of his or her truth.

And then there are those who tell us the truth, or at least the truth as they see it, for only one reason, to cause pain.

Which brings me back to my evilness and the lies I supposedly told. I wish I could apologize for these unknown lies and whatever else led to this belief that I am evil, but it is impossible to talk to someone who will not listen. So I’m doing what I always do, dumping my worries and my wonderings onto this blog.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly FireandDaughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

17 Responses to “How Much of the Truth do We Owe to Others?”

  1. wheresmykid Says:

    Nice ponder. Thanks.

  2. Carol Wuenschell Says:

    I think actual evil is relatively hard to find. And you’re much more likely to get someone who is making mistakes that hurt people to change for the better if you approach him with compassion than if you label him as “evil.”

  3. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Who was this person who called you evil? You’re a role model for many people Pat: writers and people in the throes of grief. How is that evil?

  4. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    Evil is a religious notion. I have only met one woman who could be classified as evil and I’m writing about her at the moment. Some people don’t develop empathy for others and she was that sort of person. They can fake it real well but when it comes to the crunch they don’t feel the same way about others that most of us do.

    People can also have the empathy for others trained out of them. The Nazis were good at this sort of training. I’d say much of the Hitler Youth lacked basic empathy for others and were heavily goal orientated. Were the Nazis and their Hitler Youth evil? I think during WW2 they came mighty close.

    Lack of empathy for the enemy, the guy in the other uniform, is as old as humanity. War is hell. It is, however, the lack of empathy once the war is won or before a war has started that is the real concern.

    I don’t have that much empathy for the boat people coming from Indonesia. They are invaders trying to invade my country. I find myself with a lack of empathy for the wealthy and powerful in Indonesia because they should be able to stop the boats. Also they are taking the money we send them but not improving their own country with it.

    I cannot have any empathy for anyone who would hit a life guard after that life guard has saved a life. The life guards are the unsung heroes of our beaches and deserve everyone’s respect. They are as Australian as you can get.

    I cannot have empathy for anyone who thinks they have the right to dictate how women should dress on Australian beaches. Hey! Let the women decide.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s always great to get the Australian perspective, and to see the problems people from the other side of the world are dealing with. I always thought the USA was the only country dealing with such invasions. What a strange (and sometimes unpleasant) world.

  5. When in New Places Says:

    Well, I’m a big believer that we project onto others what we feel about ourselves. This person is accusing you of doing something that they won’t even tell you about, so you can’t even defend it. That’s not right.
    Dump the worries and wonderings and then consider dumping this person from your life. They seem highly toxic.
    No one deserves to be told that.
    Sending you lots of peace in this situation!
    <3~ Andrea

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’d forgotten about that, but yes, we do project onto others what we feel about ourselves,

      Thank you for your concern and the peace you sent. It helps.

    • Juliet Waldron Says:

      Ditto, Andrea. Seems–I’ve noticed it a lot in current politics–that the more you raise your voice and scream and point fingers, the more it turns out that it’s really all about you. In short, “cast the beam out of your own eye before you worry about the mote in the eye of your brother.” Can’t think of a less likely candidate for the “Evil” label than Pat!

  6. leesis Says:

    ah the heated things family say when conflict raises its ugly head. How dare someone call my friend evil…shame on them!!!

  7. elainemansfield Says:

    This is hard, especially when the heart is open and tenderized by grief. I know because I have a mother-in-law (my dead husband was her only child) who doesn’t dare call me evil because of her dependency on me, but has plenty of insulting angry things to say despite my care. I don’t have the heart to walk away because I’m the only person who will watch over her, but I keep an emotional distance and protect myself from her misplaced rage about her son’s death. I hope you can protect yourself from this hurtful person and build an inner shield around your heart if complete avoidance isn’t an option. No matter how it’s handled, I’m sorry you have to endure this.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Oh, my gosh, the things we end up doing after the death of our mates. Luckily, my situation is not as bad as yours. The current conflict will be gone shortly, and all I’ll left to deal with is the fallout. For now. More trauma coming, I’m sure.

      Sending you hugs. Sounds like you could use one today

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