Q: I grew up in rural Canada where integrity was the norm and dishonest people were uncommon. I have struggled to come to grips with the diminution of this essential quality in today’s world and have recently encountered a disturbing example of this phenomena.
A few years ago, we got new neighbours. It soon became apparent that the fellow next door was lazy and irresponsible but my wife and I tried nonetheless to get along with him and his family. You have to be a good neighbour — the mantra that was so pervasive in my world and at face value appears to be a great guiding principle. But it did not work.
I have come to realize that my neighbour is a pathological liar. It amazes me how this person can lie repeatedly in the course of a few minutes. Does he even know that he is lying?
This has become a matter of some considerable concern to me since I have discovered that he has repeatedly disseminated defamatory lies about me in the community.
I am worried that his lies may damage my reputation, which would have a direct effect on my income, but I am not sure what to do about it. Do you have an opinion?
A: What strikes me about your concerns is that you have two problems. One is the behaviour of your new neighbour. The other is your standing within your community.
I am going to treat each problem differently. Let’s start with your neighbour. If, in fact, he is a bona fide pathological liar, and I have no reason to believe that he isn’t, nothing that you are going to do is likely to change him. Pathological lying is symptomatic of any number of psychiatric disorders that can include anti-social personality, borderline personality, behaviour problems in adolescents or young adults and attention deficit disorders.
The common thread throughout all of the various diagnoses is that they are not easily treated and are almost impossible to treat without the co-operation of the person struggling with it. Unless your neighbour explicitly asks for help, he is not probably going to stop lying and embrace a world of truthfulness and honesty.
Your other problem is your standing within your community.
I suspect that you are right. Our rural communities do not always carry the banner of integrity with the dignity they once did. Nonetheless, integrity remains a vital force and you are more likely to be successful if you continue along the path driven by honesty, sensitivity and empathy than you are if you jump into some kind of a narcissistic bandwagon.
It is important that you do not get caught up in those coffee-row altercations pitting gossip versus gossip.
In fact, you would do well to do nothing to counteract the misrepresentations your neighbour is spreading about you. The more you try to counteract his proclamations, the more likely it is that he will continue to fabricate innumerable talks flattering neither you nor your family.
If, however, what your neighbour is saying or doing is in some way physically harmful for you and your family, your best option is to turn to the judiciary system for support. I know that the judicial system in our small, rural communities is slow and awkward but if you spend that extra dollar and get the support of a competent lawyer you are more likely to get the protection for you and your family.
That is certainly far better than trying to take justice into your own hands.