I was asked my age in class the other day, and wheeled out the old lie/joke that really means, I’d rather you didn’t ask.
‘Twenty-one,’ I said.
‘You look like you’re forty-six,’ the eleven year old girl replied.
That number was no accident – she knows for a fact I’m thirty-six.
I explained to her (though surely she already knew), that it is polite to tell people they look younger than they are.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘You look sixteen.’
I think the ideal lie is something like, guess someone’s age, then subtract ten years, but if I told her that then she would tell me I looked thirty-six, so I took a different tack.
Next lesson, in the back of her book I wrote the following lines from Blake’s Auguries of Innocence.
A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
‘Special homework just for you,’ I said. ‘Read the poem and explain the meaning to me.’
‘It means don’t tell lies.’
‘No it doesn’t. Read it.’
‘But I can’t understand…’
‘Ah…’ I read it out to her.
A minute later she handed her book to me with her gloss on the poem:
It means be nice to the old teacher.
(Just a short, light-hearted post this one. If you’re looking for a more serious consideration of Blake’s poem, um, I dunno – try Google or something? More substantial posts to follow soon ^^)