Explain ‘lying is a necessity of our circumstances.’ What does Mark Twain mean by a ‘silent lie?’

In the essay ‘On the Decay of the Art of Lying’, Mark Twain has spoken about the timeless tradition of telling lies. He says that “Lying is a necessity of our circumstances.” It has become a virtue when in need. He quotes the proverb which says, “Children and fools always speak the truth.” The inference is obvious. All the wise people do resort to lying when needed. He further quotes Parkman who had said that, “The principle of truth may itself be carried into an absurdity.” Quoting Parkman, Twain further says that no individual can merely survive upon speaking blatant truth always, for somewhere or the other, one feels the necessity to take resort to lying. He seems to support a lie which is spoken with an unselfish and charitable motive and which does not hurt other’s sentiments.

Further, Twain speaks about ‘silent lie’ as one of the forms of lying. This is wherein one conveys deception by keeping still and concealing the truth. The obstinate truth-mongers who think that they speak no lies, actually follow this mode of ‘silent lie.’

To speak further about this, Twain states the incident of a lady who had availed the services of a nurse during her nephew’s illness. After availing the services, the Oakland Hospital had asked the lady to give her true feedback regarding the nurse. The lady had answered all except one question which she had left blank. The question said, “Was the nurse at any time guilty of a negligence which was likely to result in the patient’s taking cold?” Twain told the lady that her decision to leave it unanswered was an act of saying a silent lie. The lady knew that the nurse was good except that she could not be trusted blindly when it came to covering the patient and keeping him warm. Had the lady given the true feedback to the hospital, then the nurse could have been best used for her services in the domain wherein she was good at.

Herein, Twain also narrates a lie to the lady saying that Mr. Jone’s Willie was down with severe degree of scarlet fever and was attended by the same nurse. This little trigger caused by Twain’s lie made the lady rush to Mr. Jones and share the true details of the nurse. She even went on to share the true feedback about the nurse to the hospital.

Hence, the unselfish lie told by Twain made the lady realize her fault. She did realize about her having resorted to a silent lie. Her not having given the true feedback to save the nurse was done in the right impulse but the judgement was crude. Hence, Twain says that when necessary, one must lie thoughtfully and judiciously.

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