‘Fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake,’ trills Taylor Swift in her hit song shake it off. Being false has always been anathema to youth culture. Teens are at that tricky stage when the wool has suddenly been pulled from their eyes – the world turns out to be a dark and difficult place, where parents are no longer perfect and a fat man on a sleigh doesn’t deliver presents after all. The constant references to despised but ubiquitous ‘phonies’ in Salinger’s iconic text of teen culture, The Catcher in the Rye, sum it up.
But what if the opposite were true – what if for even just a day, everyone told the truth the whole time? Imagine the fall out… “To be honest, that dress doesn’t make you look fat – your fat makes you look fat.” Or ,“Oh, you’re doing drop-off today; I was hoping I wouldn’t run into you.” Or, even more horrifically, “No, sweetheart, I don’t want to hear you read for the 20th time this week. In fact, I can think of nothing worse.”
And what about social media? Can you imagine the Facebook posts? See yet another humblebragging status update and watch, fascinated – in much the same way as a car smash fascinates the human mind – as the brutally honest posts roll in.
“Your status updates drive me mad, I don’t care that your six-month-old ate a stem of organic broccoli!”. Or, “Yes, you’re at the hospital… For heaven’s sake, just spit it out and suck up the sympathy – we all know that’s why you posted”. It’s safe to say a fair few friendships would fall by the wayside before even an hour of the 24 was up.
Sure, the truth is important. We build friendships and relationships based on trust, and where’s the trust if we’re not being honest with one another? But let’s look a little deeper. Right from when we’re small, fibs and falsehoods creep into our lives. As guileless toddlers, we’re encouraged not to say exactly what we think about Auntie Ellen’s funny nose, and not to mention that we already have a better version of Uncle Jim’s birthday present at home. Then there’s the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, even the Bogeyman… We use such falsehoods to bribe our children, to teach them, to gently ease them into the world we live in as adults.
And as we grow up, we pepper our lives with little white lies to smooth our days. “The dog ate my homework!” develops into, “I’m stuck in traffic…” and, “Sorry, I already have plans on Saturday night.” By the time we’re adults, we’ll probably have lied a hundred million times over.
But the key is to look at why we’ve lied; is it to benefit ourselves? Chances are it’s not; we’ll all be able to recall a time when we told a friend her new – irreversible – hairdo was a nice change, or when we promised our mums we were safely tucked up in bed last night. We know our friend doesn’t need to be reminded her hair was nicer before, and our mums don’t need anything else to worry about.
Life without some lies would be tough and we’d all have to grow leather-thick skins to cope. Think of them as the grease that smoothes the creaking cogs of life. But also, think of the power of truth and the responsibility that goes with that power. As we’ve said, we reckon all hell would break loose if we let rip with the truth unhindered.
But the teenage passion for authenticity and polarity has definitely got one thing right. True ‘fakers’ are the ones lying to themselves, as well as to other people. Perhaps learning the right time and way to lie is all a part of growing up.