The film The Invention of Lying could easily have been titled “The Invention of Flattery,” although the central conceit of the film really does involve Ricky Gervais’ character creating a complete fiction—and being the first in all of humanity to do so. This makes him very powerful as no one can comprehend that what he is doing represents falsehoods.
In the film, Mark Bellison is a writer who is much ridiculed by his co-workers, male and female. They do not believe they are maligning him, they are just stating their true sense of what they believe.
I don’t think anyone would view this as a great film but it does reveal some interesting ideas about the importance of lying in human society and how we might all be if we could not. Would we all walk around saying things that are true but are hurtful or insulting in our actual society? Would there be no flattery, often if not always a form of lying, even when a compliment was due someone? Is a compliment flattery, a lie, in all cases or would we never flatter each other in a world without lying? Are there interactions where flattery is a justified form of interaction or is it always a way of buttering someone up? Just to be clear, I don’t know but they are interesting questions. Perhaps we should ask ourselves some of them before we initiate an unnecessary lie.
Well, there’s little chance that we’ll transform into a society in which lying doesn’t exist. Perhaps flattery is an unnecessary form of lying, though. Most of us have had managers (or will eventually) who thrive on employees who seem to do little actual work (except making us all work more). They make our managers believe they are the best versions of themselves, what they see in the mirror each morning before the stride among us—giants among us who can do no wrong, whose every action is in the best interests of the company and its shareholders. Wouldn’t all of us enjoy our work more completely if our bosses encouraged more truth, more bad news along with the good, more honest feedback about their performance and those of our coworkers? I think it would. This kind of workplace will probably continue to be as ephemeral as willow-the-wisps, actually a sort of charged swamp gas that glows in the night and isn’t magical at all.
There is nothing wrong with hoping, though. Flattery gets some of us somewhere, although it only leaves the taste of ashes and bitterness for us who prefer more truth in our days.