What’s the Difference between Deliberate Fiction and Lying?
The other day, I mentioned this book I’m reading, Ensouling Language. The author, Stephen Harrod Buhner, is very helpful in awakening passion and bringing clarity of purpose to authors. Towards the back of the book, he talks about the pragmatics of getting your book published where he says, “If you only learn one thing about book proposals, learn this: they are a specific genre of fiction.”
This got me thinking about the plethora of examples of business fiction that we regard as non-fiction. The first example that popped up was a startup company business plan. Like the author of a book, the entrepreneur can’t tell you what will happen in 3 years or 2 years or even in 90 days. Everything is in the state of continuous change. That’s part of startups, and it must be this way. Yet, when these entrepreneurs make presentations to potential investors they tell them a story that is expected to be as close as possible to what’s actually going to happen.
This process creates great tension between the parties. Investors often accuse entrepreneurs of misleading them, and the entrepreneurs probably don’t feel too good about the situation either. If we could just agree up front that it’s not possible to know the future, and what is being presented is only today’s best idea of how things will turn out. Then we could all focus on how we can support each other in the unexpected twists and turns.
This storytelling happens in so many places. I remember when we applied for 501 c3 (non-profit) status with the IRS for our foundation. One of the IRS requirements is for the foundation to tell the IRS who it will be doing business with and at what level of spending over the next five years. HOW COULD ANYONE KNOW? If you don’t make up a plausible story, though, you don’t get past go with the IRS.
Is all this making liars out of us? Maybe. If we hold to the illusion that the future is knowable and pretend we can write stories that will turn out with certainty (kinda like fairy tales) then yes, many of us are liars. On the other hand, if we just stop and recognize we are writing fiction and it has the value of helping us see the potential of our future vision, then we can be in integrity.
I for one, suggest the latter. It’s better for everyone.