Allow me to introduce myself. I’m 5 feet 10 inches tall, with long blond hair, blue eyes and a body like Halle Berry. I’m a Rhodes Scholar with an IQ of 180 and was recently named to the Forbes list of the 10 wealthiest people in the world. When not traveling the world on my 400-foot yacht, I volunteer at a homeless shelter.
OK, so I exaggerate. But hey, doesn’t everyone lie? Well, everyone but Jo Hamlett, mayor of Mount Sterling, Iowa (pop. 40). According to Hamlett, lying is not only wrong, but also should be outlawed. Mayor Hamlett recently proposed an ordinance that would ban lying, and punish offenses with a fine of $20.
A retired sales and cattle trader who receives $5 a month for his mayoral duties, Hamlett is not sure exactly how to implement the proposed ordinance in a town with no police department and a town hall that performs double duty as a church. And then there’s always that pesky First Amendment thing.
Hamlett says, “I just feel like it would put a little more Midwestern honesty back in these people. … I’m for God, motherhood, apple pie and honesty. That is my agenda.”
I’m all for God, motherhood and apple pie, too (well, truthfully, I prefer cherry), but I have to ask: Isn’t honesty a little overrated? What would the world be like without lying? The already soaring divorce rate would skyrocket. The stock market would plummet. Families would be torn apart. The already tenuous relationship between the United States and the rest of the world would further deteriorate.
Politicians, the police, writers, advertising execs, sales forces and therapists – all obsolete. And forget Hollywood! Without lying, Tinseltown would never survive. In a lie-free world, people would be unable to maintain relationships, relegating us all to lonely, painful lives of quiet desperation. Truth would be the end of civilization as we know it.
When my friend Jennifer asks, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” should I go with my standard, “Of course not. Don’t be silly. If you and Calista Flockhart were in the same room, it would be impossible to tell you apart.” Or should I heed the advice of Mayor Hamlett and encourage her to consider purchasing two seats for her upcoming flight out west, if not for her comfort, at least for the sake of the poor person forced to squeeze in next to her?
What about that dreaded doubt that causes many a lover to query, “Honey, was it good for you?” If honesty became the best policy in the boudoir, candor in reaction to a mate’s attempts at romance may cool even the most red-hot of lovers.
The unemployment rate would soar even higher as prospective candidates opted for total honesty over embellishment during job interviews.
Interviewer: “So tell me: What is it about your work history and training that would make you the right candidate for this position?”
Job candidate: “Well, I was fired from my last three jobs, and I possess no special skills or training relevant to this position whatsoever, nor do I have any interest in the job for which I am applying. I’m short-tempered, ill-mannered, bossy and have little tolerance for people. So when do I start?”
Most ad campaigns would fail if the truth were told. The slogan “Have a Coke and a Smile” will sell a lot more beverages than “Have A Coke And End Up Toothless” would. Not surprising that those in charge of naming the Iraq invasion opted for Operation Iraqi Freedom over something like Operation Texaco.
Like it or not, lying serves an important function in society. It keeps marriages intact and careers afloat; it fuels wars, sells billions of dollars of goods, and spares the more sensitive among us the devastating hurt that often accompanies the awful truth.
So what if I’m not a perfect blond, blue-eyed, brainy billionaire beauty? Embellishing the truth is no crime. Well, not yet, anyway.
Jill Rachel Jacobs lives and writes in New York. She is a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer.