There is a very famous saying in my mother Tongue. It is not a proverb but is very popular and especially used as an escape route for partial truths. It goes something like this (loosely translated) “I didn’t lie. I just hid the truth”.
If this excuse makes sense to someone, or looks like it’s actually good, chances are that twisting the truth does not bother them. There is a very fine line of difference between saying an outright lie and hiding the truth. This fine line is the boundary and border limit for the good Vs. bad, as popularly perceived.
While the world in general is more comfortable with following the ‘it is not necessary to disclose the full truth until asked for., the partial truth is painful only to the person at the receiving end. Whether or not this practice is harmless is dependent on the perspective of the receiver and not the one who says it.
It is incredibly easy to fool oneself into a misplaced sense of righteousness my assuaging the conscience that a misplaced or hidden truth does not constitute as a lie. Such a tactic is highly essential in the cases where the truth would have done great damage, and it falls on the shoulders of very few to reveal it completely. In a day and age where honesty is directly related to rudeness and sweet lies are considered comforting to hear, partial truths rule the day.
A partial truth usually considers an additional clause to the basic truth, the one that is revealed. It is not considered important to reveal the clause but as we have repeatedly seen, the additional clauses are the actual things that shape the law and help the legal experts find fitting sections for convictions, or loopholes for acquittal. By revealing only the basic truth, witnesses are broken down, with the lawyers looking deep into their tales and finding out the hidden truth.
Like history would repeatedly show, the whole position of the case can be changed by one additional detail revealed. While none of the witnesses might be guilty of lying outright, they might be guilty of revealing only the partial truth, thereby unfairly influencing the case for or against the accused. A partial truth is more dangerous than an outright lie, which can be easily seen through.
Partial truths have a strange aura of believability about them that even the one or two lies slipped in between can be called truths by association. The assumptions are made quickly if one fact is established some truth firmly. The assumptions built on that truth are all quickly associated as fact, with each person adding to what they already know with their own personal, fertile imagination.
I still remember the childhood game called ‘pass the message’ – again a rough name, where the kids sit down in a circle and one person begins the game by whispering a statement in their neighbor’s ears. The neighbor then passes this ‘wisdom’ on to their neighbor and so on and so forth until the circle is complete and the penultimate person says to the last who then repeats it to the original kid who began this.
By the time this game finishes, the statement that started going around would almost always never be the same as the one that comes when the circle is done. The more the merrier. The more kids there are, the more the chances of the truth getting distorted, until it attains a completely unrecognizable form. In the game, it is really funny to get this distorted word. The last person who stands up and tells it is the center point of attention and it is great fun to watch a completely different statement come from him/ her.
The same is the case for partial truths. Their main fault is the ample scope and material they allow for expansion and fertile minds to project. A semi formed truth is an open welcome to everyone to form their own interpretations / conclusions, leading to utter, complete chaos, unlike the childhood game where there was order and the only chaos was the kids fighting.
But with adult life comes a strange sense of wariness towards truth that every person speaks, because of the heavy population of lies and unreliable half-truths. This can change only when the distinction between lies and partial truth is clearly defined, and half truths are recognized for the sheep clothed wolf they are. Until then, they are going to be considered as an excuse for people who are that rare combination – not bold enough to say the full truth, but not so vile to say a planned lie that will have far greater impacts.
Most things work well only as a whole and never in parts. And this is why partial truths, like partial knowledge are more harm than good, often leading to intended and unintended consequences. Like the butterfly’s wings setting off an earthquake, a carefully concealed half truth can quickly obtain a form and fame that will make everyone believe what they are hearing. This is why they’re regarded with caution.
Half truths are not to be romanticized as having an intent to save ‘the recipient from harsh lies’. The partial truth is an intentionally conceived alternate form of an outright lie, a bit ingeniously worded. If only everyone noticed how tiring and draining it is to maintain a track for this, the world would be free of these masqueraders.