Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is it lies or make-believe?

Because of our shared love of Downton Abbey, Tim’s father loaned me his boxed set of Upstairs Downstairs last week. (British TV is so much better than ours!)

I was intrigued by one of the characters in the first episode. She’s a housemaid who’s just entered service, and when we first meet her, she gives her name as Clemence Dumas. She tells the lady of the house that she is from France, and she had to come back to England because her mother was ill. Her employer says they will call her Sarah, because a name like Clemence is above her station. “Sarah” tells the others in the household that her mother was a gypsy princess, and her father was a French count. She claims that her mother died giving birth to her. She also says she can tell fortunes by reading palms and tea leaves and that she’s never wrong.

On her first day of work, she observes the cook, Mrs. Bridges, giving food from the larder to an elderly woman for money. Sarah believes that Mrs. Bridges is stealing for her own ends and thinks that would be a good way for her to make a few extra quid. When she is caught and forced to tell the truth about everything, Rose, the head housemaid, accuses her of thinking that she’s better than all of them.

Sarah replies that she doesn’t think she’s better than them, just more interesting. Rose calls her a liar and Sarah defends her self that they aren’t lies, they’re make-believe. Her stories are her escape from her lot in life.

Make-believe has always been a word relegated to children’s programming here. It’s what we tell children about things on the TV, so they know that the scary monsters or the man who can leap from tall buildings are not real, and they don’t need to worry (or shouldn’t go jump from the roof). And when they grow older, we tell them that some good things they believed in were just make believe. And can we blame them if they feel hurt and angry that we lied?

So when do we stop playing make-believe and start telling lies? Is it all a matter of perspective? Age? Are politicians (this is a non-partisan statement) all just playing make-believe, not lying their butts off? And where is the line between make-believe, lying, and acting 'as if'? Can we really 'create our own reality?' That's all Clemence was trying to do.

Acting 'as if' is a concept I learned from Wicca. It's also known as 'faking it til you make it.' If you assume the attitude and actions of a successful, happy person, you will be a successful, happy person. This is not lying or make believe, because you are taking a thing that is not-real-yet and making it real.

So the difference between make believe and lies, as far as I can tell, is knowing participation. When we watch a movie, we know the story isn't true, but we allow ourselves to believe it is for a time. We make-believe that the characters in our favorite book is real. A lie is when fiction is presented as truth to an unknowing audience. For example, like Sasha Baron Cohen and his team did when they made Borat. The result may be entertaining, but it can also cause people to feel embarrassed and foolish when they find out the truth.

In conclusion, I think that I will teach my children not to lie, but I will never, ever teach them to stop playing make-believe.

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