Deceit and falsehood, whatever conveniences they may for a time promise or produce, are in the sum of life obstacles to happiness. Those who profit by the cheat distrust the deceiver, and the act by which kindness was sought puts an end to confidence. Nothing can compete with human deceitfulness. Its origin is always to be found in the motives of those who are actuated only by a spirit of thorough selfishness. When men have some personal end to accomplish, then is seen the full flower of deceit. When they have some enemy, opponent, or rival to punish, then deceit puts on its most sturdy appearance.
That form of deceit which is cunningly laid and unworthily carried on under the disguise of friendship is, of all others, the most detestable. There can be no greater treachery than first to raise a confidence, and then deceive it. A man can not be justified in deceiving, misleading, or overreaching his neighbors. Still less, then, is he justified in inspiring confidence by smooth words and a gracious manner, only that he may further his own selfish end by breaking the trust placed in him. Nothing can be more unjust than to play upon the belief of a confiding person, to make him suffer for his good opinion, and fare the worse for thinking you an honest man.
A course of deception always defeats the true end of society. Society is a great compact designed to promote the good of man, and to elevate him in dignity, refinement, and intelligence. But too often it is understood solely as a cunning contrivance to palm off unreal virtues and to conceal real defects. Dignity is too often only pretension, refinement an artificial gloss, and intelligence only verbal display, based upon knowledge barely sufficient to make a show. All is vanity and disguises, empty mockeries and hollow-hearted nullities. But the heart of man is such a sorry mixture of good and bad that we are only too willing to urge on the race, striving to see who can be the most deceitful of all. Those whom we live with are like actors on a stage; they assume whatever dress and appearance may suit their present purpose, and they speak and act in keeping with this character.
Man is as naturally set on ambition as the bee is to gather honey. In the mad haste to stand well in the eyes of the public and third parties, they are prone to assume any disguise or counterfeit any virtue by which they may accomplish their selfish ends. They are afraid of slight outward acts which will injure them in the eyes of others, but are utterly heedless of the tide of evil, of hatred, jealousy, and revenge, which throb in their souls to their own condemnation and shame. They are more troubled by the outward and external effects of an evil course of life than by the evil itself. It is the love of approbation and not the conscience that enacts the part of a moral sense in this case.
Though a man may never give them outward expression, still, if he harbors in his breast all manner of evil thoughts, they will be potent in shaping his character. Though he may disguise them by artful words and a gracious bearing, still they are there, and their effect is as direful as though their expression was open and plain to all. Society at large may be less injured by the latent existence of evil than by its public expression; but the man himself is as much injured by the cherished thoughts of evil as by the open commission of it, and sometimes even more. For evil brought out ceases to disguise itself, and appears as hideous as it is in reality; but the evil that lurks and glances through the soul avoids analysis and evades detection.
Hypocrisy and deception are so near akin to each other that you can not wound the one without touching the sensibilities of the other. A hypocrite lives in society in the same apprehension as the thief who lies concealed in the midst of the family he is to rob, for he fancies himself perceived when he is least so; every motion alarms him; he is suspicious that, every one who enters the room knows where he is hid and is coming to seize him. Thus, as nothing hates so valiantly as fear, many an innocent person who suspects no evil intended him is detested by him who intends it.
This multitudinous vice of deception takes on many forms. Hypocrisy is but one, though it is perhaps as much detested as any. But it is a lamentable fact that scarcely any thing is really what it is represented to be. As there are so many strange anomalies in human nature, we are not surprised when we discover the shallowness of so many apparently sincere pretensions, the worthlessness of what appears so fair. When it is all carefully summed up, it is found always easier to be than merely appear to be. He who pretends to great acquirements is worse put to it to conceal his ignorance than would have sufficed to have made him master of many sciences.
Those who strive by outward appearances to carry an impression of wealth and station beyond their real income are compelled, by their lavish expenditures in aid of the deception, to a strict economy in seclusion, whereas, were they content to exercise a judicious economy at all times, they would soon be placed in that position they so much long for. As for the hypocrite, surely this is the most foolish deception of all, since the hypocrite is at pains to put on the appearance of virtue, he pretends to morality, to pure friendship and esteem, and is more anxious that his outward walk and conversation shall savor of these virtues than if he were at heart possessed of them.
Since, then, a course of deception puts us to more straits than ever the open course, is it not true, then, in every-day life as well as individual acts, “honesty is the best policy?” Why purchase the base imitation of noble virtues, and derive from them naught but ridicule and dislike, when no greater outlay would procure for us the true metals, which bring peace of mind and the honor and esteem of all.
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