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Lions, dogs and magicians… Or why lying can be good

Today, I came across this article about a lion that barks.
No, it’s not an amazing specimen, it’s actually a dog. I seriously giggled, particularly when reading the comments, and then spent the next 30 minutes looking at photos of Tibetan Mastiffs.

[Note to self: stay away from articles which might lead you to google dogs’ pictures, they are too addictive]
But seriously, just look at how adorable they are

Psst, if you click on the pic, it takes you to the Google Search Results with thousands of SUCH ADORABLE pictures

Psst, if you click on the pic, it takes you to the Google Search Results, but beware…

But beyond that, I think the article itself, even though its primary intent might be to amuse the readers, as a breath of fresh air amongst the horrendous news about Egypt and other bloodsheds, is a good example of ‘on the edge’ PR or why lying can sometimes be good.

Hands up all those who remember their parents saying these exact words to them: ‘Lying is bad’.
I was a very inquisitive child and, annoyingly so, any unknown word or concept that I came across would inevitably set me off on a ‘what is that?’ series of questions.
The serious discussion about lying, as far as I can recall, happened around when I was 6. I must have broken something (as always) and tried to hide it when my dad asked me about it.
And so, in a grim, low tone of voice, I heard the L word for the first time. My dad told me that it’s bad to lie, and quite frankly, at that age the word bad was a strong emotional trigger, as something bad usually meant no sweets.

What is lie? I asked looking at my dad, already agitated, as I was half convinced that I am not having any sweets that evening.
‘When you don’t say the truth about something that happened.’ came my dad’s answer, as if he was speaking to a grown-up.
‘What is truth?’
The truth is telling someone exactly what happened when they ask you.
But that IS exactly what happened.
To me, whether for the sake of the sweets or because lying was an alien term to me still, I truly believed in what I was saying, because what I have told my dad WAS what happened or for what is worth, what my dad should know happened.

Looking back at it now, it must have been the first sign that I will end up doing PR.
Some would say it is fatuous to claim that something so evident didn’t happen, and besides, those who do break the rules of ethics. Dynamo, the famous British magician never says he did or didn’t do a particular thing, he just lets the public see the conflicting messages between what they see and what they knew as the truth and decide for themselves whether what happened is magic or lies. Or if the two are synonyms to someone altogether.
So he offers magic, but sceptics might say all he is in fact offering, are visual illusions to naive onlookers, that have a very simple explanation in Physics, bla bla bla… There goes the fun when numbers start pouring in an attempt to explain how he walked on water and all the magic is gone (very bad pun, I know).
Was that what the Zoo was trying to do also? Offer the illusion of a lion in the cage, knowing that it is a fabrication, yet also being aware of the fact that the children and onlookers would not find any less enjoyment, as long as they don’t know the fluffy golden being is indeed a dog .

Ok, right, got lost in my thoughts again, but to summarise, I think a lie is defined by humans, and so is truth. When the ‘lion’ barked, it was plain to see the lie. But before it did, the visitors would return home happy about the fact that they saw a lion in captivity that day.

I remember going to the Zoo when I was young and seeing all the animals from the books about Africa and Antarctica. Would have I known, granted the creature inside a cage looked approximately as I pictured a lion would look like, whether I did see the ferocious feline or a Tibetan Mastiff? Nah, and I would have been equally as happy to see either anyway. I mean, although I won’t stop saying how cute it is, a Tibetan Mastiff can easily resemble a lion.

That looks as scary and fluffy as a lion to me

That looks fluffy and scary. Pretty much like a lion I’d say.

What am I trying to get at?
The fact that lying isn’t always bad. I know it sounds like a cliché but, in all honesty, I do think there is nothing wrong in giving people the chance to believe in something, if that makes them happy. To bridge the gap, in a consumerist world, where CSR is no longer an abstract term, but a pressing reality, I think whilst a company ensures transparency in regards to the products and/or services they offer, they should be able to persuade people in such a convincing manner, that there is no need for them to go looking for the truth. Because they’re to busy being happy… Let the sceptics access the more info section.

Going back to the lion-dog, the inductive thinking (or risk assessment, if you will) in a situation like this is as simple as: ‘Dogs bark, lions don’t, the dog will bark, we can’t say it’s a lion.’
However, they went forward with it. Why?
Again, very simple argument: ‘People don’t want to see dogs in a zoo’.
So… ‘we say it’s a lion and the people that will see it before it barks will truly believe they’ve seen a lion, and when the truth comes out, we will take responsibility for that’.

Honestly, that works for me and if I saw this article the next day in the newspaper, but I have already seen that big smile on my daughter’s face two days ago when she was convinced she saw the lion, will I start telling her it was a ‘lie’?
First of all, God knows if she would start down the route of ‘What is lie?’ but most importantly she’s happy, I’m happy and I already knew what a lion looks like and would have paid the same price for the same experience of my daughter being so happy that she saw the lion. That hasn’t changed when I saw the article, unless I decide to, because for all she knows, she saw the lion.
To be frank, I would thank the guys in the Zoo for their creativity, because getting to the lion’s cage to discover it’s empty is what could have seriously ruined the visit to the zoo. But if it started barking, that would have just made it more fun. Either way, no loss for visitors, no loss for Zoo owners, no loss for the Mastiff to be the ‘king of the jungle’ for a short while.

What’s your view? Are you a convinced puritan or a Machiavellic thinker? 


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