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Crooked Mouths, Straight Words

January 15, 2012

“Even if your mouth were crooked, the words out of it should be straight (honest).”

I grew up hearing this Korean saying; an American equivalent might be, “Honesty is the best policy.” I had forgotten this expression. Recently, I bumped into it in one of the poems of Mr. Yong Taek Kim. Since then, I have been staring at the mouths of presidential candidates and politicians in the news. I did not find crooked-looking mouths, but the words out of their mouths sounded crooked.

Dictionary definition of “lie” is “an intentional untruth, a falsehood.” Lies are like life. We all know that life is not black and white. There are many shades of gray in between, contrary to  fundamentalist belief.

There are well-intended lies. “Dai Sil, have you eaten?” asked Don every time I went to see him in the Intensive Care Unit. My answer was always, “Yes,” even with my noisy gut declaring hunger. A truthful answer, I felt, would only make Don worry and add pain. Don had been concerned about my eating ever since my stomach surgery to remove cancer. (Thanks to my brilliant surgeon, I was declared cancer free.)  “Don, did you smoke?” I would ask, detecting cigarette odor in his room. “No,” said Don, knowing full well that I knew he was lying. What people call a white lie.

In almost 30 years of  life together, we never told “real” lies, only well-meaning lies and white lies. But where do we draw the line between these and “real” lies?  Often, the line can’t be clear. If our wish for clarity is excessive or obsessive, we might become a rigid, “white and black” person with smug feelings of self-righteousness. Speaking for myself, I would rather be guilty of telling well-intentioned lies or white lies than become self-righteous.

This leads me to say that definition of “lies” or “crooked words” have to be left to each individual’s conscience, though it is always helpful to keep the spirit of “no crooked words” or “honesty is the best policy” in view.

As to those candidates and most politicians, I declare that they say crooked words with straight mouths and clear conscience! Beware of their straight mouths!


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