The impulse to lie is often hard to overcome. Most societies have figured out ways to temper, as best they can, the urge people feel (especially when their backs are to the wall) to bend the truth to suit their own needs.
It’s no revelation to report that lying is universal. But there are notable differences in how people lie, and in how people interpret lies. The notions of sincerity, truth, and discretion are remarkably fluid, diverging wildly between continents, nations and regions.
In Mexico, for example, few people expect anything more than an indirect correlation between their leaders’ promises and what they actually do. This discrepancy is so ‘baked-in’ to the culture that Mexican journalists have only recently started comparing politicians’ campaign pledges with their accomplishments in office.
In many small Mexican towns, if a campaign promise is (unexpectedly) achieved, large garish banners are strung all across town with the word “CUMPLIMOS” (“we kept our word”).
‘Keeping one’s word’ is a big deal, warranting speeches, industrial quantities of alcohol and widely-held celebration. Why? Because it’s rare. Not just because of politicians’ tendency to make over-the-top pledges, but because of deep discrepancies in how Mexicans perceive and judge language.
Are these discrepancies unique to political campaigns? No… in fact, many words are not meant to be interpreted literally, including measures of time, intent and (most of all) personal responsibility.
The resulting communication between natives is nuanced and non-direct… making Anglo-Saxon literalness irrelevant. When you read the texts of speeches given by Mexican officials, for example, you’re struck by their abstract and idealistic terminology. Their narratives are other worldly, bordering at times more on fiction or fantasy than real life.
Which makes it essential to interpret meaning based on context and symbolism: what the speaker doesn’t say, or what she’s really trying to say… and what that means or could possibly mean.
All based, of course, on deep distrust.
Organized lying and the missing 43
As we all know, politicians in every nation lie, and power often accrues to those who lie best. In this way, Mexico is no different than anywhere else. But there’s a tendency in Mexico, more than other places – to allot more importance to values other than ‘telling the truth’.
The case of the “Missing 43” is just one example, for it shows that when faced between loyalty and honesty, many ordinary Mexicans choose the former.
The facts of the case are fairly straight forward: 43 students were taken away, murdered and their corpses “disappeared”.
Although few people know all the details, there were scores if not hundreds of witnesses, including local, state and federal officials, not just at the incident itself but also the extensive cover-up.
43 students were massacred in cold blood by gangsters – and probably also police. The military has already been implicated… soldiers were present at the scene. An atrocity beyond words, arguably the worst tragedy in Mexico for decades…
Yet up to now, not a single person has opened his or her mouth.
Should the ‘truth’ (and assuming the consequences of speaking the truth) take priority over the interests of one’s family or party?
Many Mexicans say no.