Deceit is defined as “the act or practice of deceiving; concealment or distortion of the truth for the purpose of misleading; duplicity; fraud; cheating”. Fear is perhaps better defined here as “avoid” instead of what we would think of as “fear” in English. And it is because of these two definitions that we should be cautious about those who would use deceit upon us. Deceit is one of the most prevalent of the vices in any time, either ancient or modern and this Maxim is one of the most accessible because of that sad fact. We must always be on our guard and arm ourselves against deceit with mindfulness.
Yes, I talk a lot in this blog series about the Delphic Maxims encouraging mindfulness, but the truth is that mindfulness underscores many of the Maxims including this one. It is when we are most mindful that it is hardest to deceive us – because we are most able to see the truth for ourselves and embrace it rather than the distortions of deceitful acts and language. A good example of being mindful is found in those who question popularly accepted “facts” because they do not actually fit their experiences. It is those people who show us what it means to “fear” deceit.
Many people are afraid of being fooled, but have no problems trying to fool others. This Maxim also counsels us to avoid being deceitful ourselves. Truth is precious because if we are to react to our universe properly, we must have the correct information without concealment or distortion. This is why when we deceive others it is as bad as when others deceive us – and why we should avoid deceit whenever possible by honesty. Even the “little white lie” is not allowed under this Maxim.
Shakespeare says “To thine own self be true, and that be done/ you cannot then be false to any man”. Truthfulness instead of deceit is the watchword of these lines, and it is a good model for us all to follow.