“Those people are bad, I’m telling you,” Phil said. “You can believe me because I know. I’ve seen how they operate.” Phil pointed his ballpoint pen at Nelly, then tapped it on the legal pad to punctuate his pronouncement.
“Oh, yeah?” Nelly said. “What do you mean by bad?”
“They’re evil. Their way is the wrong way. They’ll get you in trouble. They’ll take you down with them. They’ll try to win you over, then when they do they’ll take your soul. You’ll be lost – lost forever.” Phil’s voice increased in volume as he spoke. By the time he reached “forever,” his was almost shrieking.
“Aren’t you being a bit over the top?” Nelly said.
“No, I am not!”
“Well, I think you are.”
“What? You think I’m lying?”
“I don’t think you’re lying. I do know that you disagree with them. I know that you have a difference of opinion with them. I know that you are demonizing them because you want to make me agree with you. You want me to be on your side.”
“HA!” Phil’s eyes bulged and his jaw clenched.
“Yes, it’s true,” Nelly stated matter-of-factly.
“So, that’s where you’re coming from, Phil. You’re politicking me to win me over and get my vote, pure and simple.”
Phil slapped his hand against the wall next to his chair.
“Can’t you see what’s going on? Can’t you separate fact from fiction? I’m telling the truth. I state the facts. Those people are spreading lies and are doing all they can to take over. They lie, they cheat, they murder. In fact, they would like nothing more than to kill each and every one of us. That would suit them just fine.” Phil folded his arms on his chest and nodded, signifying complete agreement with himself.
“Well, now,” Nelly said. “That’s different.”
“Yes, very different.”
“Why didn’t I listen to you all along?”
“Just what I’m wondering.”
Nelly was silent for a minute. Now that her tactics had changed, she had to consider her next move.
“OK,” she said, “so what are we supposed to do? How do we protect ourselves from this conspiracy?”
Now it was Phil’s turn to think, so he did just that for a few seconds.
“Are you with me all the way?” he asked.
“Sure.” Nelly almost sounded sincere.
“Willing to do whatever it takes to achieve our goal?”
“Better tell me what the goal is, first.”
“The goal? Well, the goal is to . . . to . . . keep the bad people from having their way and making the rest of us into zombies to carry out their evil goals.”
“Oh,” Nelly said, “now I see what it’s all about.”
“Well, I certainly hope so!”
“Yes, it’s all very clear now.”
“Good!” Phil grinned. “So what do you think? Are you in for the long haul? Can you give your life over to the cause?” Phil was agitated and nervous now. He had worked himself into a fevered pitch. Sweat beads clung to his forehead. His cheeks were flushed. His right hand, holding his pen above the legal pad, shook.
Nelly watched Phil closely as his emotions approached the boiling point.
“Well?” Phil said, impatiently.
“Phil, I don’t know. I’m not sure I can get into this with both feet. I mean, isn’t there a little room for ambivalence? Does it have to be all or nothing? It seems to me that you’re asking me to give up my soul for your so-called cause and you’re not willing to give anything in return.”
“What do you mean, not willing to give up anything? Why should I give up anything? I’ve already sacrificed more than most would. I can’t imagine how much time I’ve spent trying to show people where truth lies . . .”
“Truth lies? Now there’s an interesting play on words. Where does truth lie? Better yet, how can we tell when truth lies?”
Phil looked hard at Nelly, his brows arched and his lips pursed tightly. He stared at her this way for a long time and Nelly stared back, her eyes peering deep into the dilated pupils of Phil. Phil did not frighten Nelly.
“What the hell do you mean?”
“I mean, how can we tell when people are lying even though they claim to be telling the truth?”
“Are you referring to me as the potential liar?”
“Not you in particular, but anyone.”
“I am telling you now – I am not lying!” Phil’s face displayed a perfect and sincere belief in his own honesty. He was convinced, beyond any doubt, of his own righteousness.
Phil grabbed Nelly’s arm and squeezed.
“Do you understand?” he said through clenched teeth. “Do you finally see that I’m not lying?” Phil’s grip on Nelly’s arm grew intense.
“Let go of me, Phil. Let go now!” Nelly glared at Phil, locking directly on his eyes. Phil stared back, but slowly let his grip on Nelly’s arm loosen. He let go completely and, continuing the eyelock on Nelly, he backed away.
“I feel the need to make you understand me,” Phil said. “I want you to really know, without a doubt, that I’m telling the truth.”
“Phil, I wonder how many times you’ve used the word ‘truth’ and ‘lying’ in the past few minutes. You seem to think that everything you say is truthful and everything the others say is not.”
“I can’t deny that.”
“So you really think that’s what’s happening? You only tell truth, they only lie.”
“You can’t believe that could be the case? What if it’s true? I tell the truth, they lie. There are honest people, you know, and I’m one of them. Honest people are pretty dependably honest. They despise lying and do their best to lead truthful lives. And then there are liars. They are always ready to exercise their deceitful habit. They lie when it will give them some advantage. In doing so, they gradually become dependent upon lies to get them through, to sustain them through life’s difficulties. At that point, there’s no turning back to honesty. By then, they can’t be believed at all. Lying does them no good, and honesty is useless.” Phil took a deep breath after his soliloquy and leaned back in his chair. He folded his arms and waited for Nelly to respond.
“Phil, you must know that the only thing that differentiates a liar from one who unwittingly states untruths is motivation. Liars understand the difference between truth and lies and choose to lie for a reason. Many reasons exist for lying but we don’t need to broach them here. People who are mistaken aren’t lying. They are just mistaken. The big problem with them is that they can be just as convincing as anyone else – truth tellers or liars – and perhaps even more so. They can mislead others into believing them. Think about that for a while, Phil. Dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of people believe something that is false, just because the purveyor of it is convincing. Not because the argument has been tested and proven, but because the argument was convincing. And the believers can die still believing the untruth. That possibility, to me, is frightening. Nothing, in my mind, is more horrible than being completely mistaken, totally wrong, at death. It means the deceased can be vilified by searchers of truth for all time.”
“Nell,” Phil said, “I know you’re passionate about finding truth, and I hope, for your sake, that you find yours. I have found mine, and I shall stick by it whatever happens. Once I found it, I knew what it was. The truth I found fits me, and I’m satisfied with it. I really believe it’s the only real truth. I wish I could convince you of the same, but I don’t think that is possible.”
“Now there’s some truth in that!” Nelly said.