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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Those little lies


by Palindrome6996 (Flickr)

As a child, one of my favorite bedtime stories was Pinocchio.

Today, on the Blog d'un Condamné, I read a Day +1 post (one day past the expiration date given to the author by his doctors). I soon discovered that the «miraculous» post is a posthumous publication: the author had planned it in advance, and it has been published automatically: the «condamné» is dead.

That peculiar blog has intrigued me from the beginning, but for the most part I was interested in what someone with 30 days to live would have to say. I did wonder about the authenticity of the blog and of the author's health issues, but I did not deeply question it. I was simply content to read it daily.

Now I discover that there is a voluminous crowd of followers who are convinced that this has been a hoax right from the start.

This hits home as I've just finished the book Never Be Lied To Again, picked in mom's library after it caught my eye while I was browsing her «interpersonal relationships» section (her partner and her have at least a hundred linear feet of bookshelves in the house, to give you an idea).

The book was interesting, although I realized while reading it that I spontaneously already use most of the strategies it describes. Picking up signs that someone is lying is not hard when you know how to. Examples of things to be on the lookout for include inconsistencies in what is being said, inconsistencies between verbal contents and nonverbal signs, avoidance of certain topics (and of direct eye contact), dodging certain questions, being defensive, etc. What it all boils down to, in my experience, is that if the interaction leaves you with a weird feeling, there might very well be a couple lies hiding within. Even when you can't say for sure... your guts usually is a good indication.




Have you ever been outrageously lied to, and how did you find out? I once had a boyfriend whom I suspected of having «another life», yet I failed to trust my guts on it, mostly because we lived in a small town and he kept introducing me to everyone as his girlfriend. I mistakenly thought «he would never do this if he had something to hide!» However, he would never let me attend any of his soccer practices or games, which I thought was peculiar... and he sometimes left for whole weekends without any clear information on his whereabouts. Not possessive by nature, I was not upset, but I nonetheless thought it was kind of weird that he would not have anything to recount after disappearing like that for a couple of days. Turns out he did have something to hide: another girlfriend! Fortunately the truth came to the surface rather quickly, after about a month of dating, and I immediately pressed the flush handle. Farewell, liar!

It wasn't a very painful breakup: as soon as I got confirmation that he was indeed a liar, I cut all the cords that had attached me to him. All the feelings I could have had melted almost instantly. It was over. (He did try to win me back... to no avail.)

The first time I recall being lied to so blatantly was at summer camp, as a kid: a girl from my group pretended she was German. Little did she know that I spoke some very basic German. When I tried to «converse» with her, she was at a loss, which aroused my suspicions. When she hesitated while spelling her own last name, I knew something was really wrong.




Since then I have wondered what would lead someone to lie like that. As much as I disagree with it, I get it that the unfaithful ex would lie to cover his as*, but to build a whole false identity? That, I don't get. Yes, we all want to be interesting. We all need attention and recognition. Most of us feel good when we impress others. We also all have that death-denying impulse to distanciate ourselves from the common man. That's normal. Every time we lie to make ourselves sound better, we elevate ourselves to another level, some kind of imagined superiority, close to invincibility. We feel strong.

I myself have used small, mostly inoffensive lies, usually online (liars have a huge playground on the Internet because of the absence on nonverbal cues). Those little lies have included: adding an inch to my height or saying my eyes were pure green when in fact they are more like the color of a swamp (a mix of hazel and green, depending on the day). But it's never gone any further than that, and I don't do it anymore. I'd rather present my real self and have a real interaction with the people I meet, be it online or in real life. I mean, I won't even wear race t-shirts for races I did not attend or complete!




Of course the Web is not solely a reunion of mystifiers and dishonest people! Just one personal example to illustrate: some 15 years ago, while showing a friend how to use chat rooms, we «met» a guy who claimed he was a doctor of immunology (in training back then). I thought it was unusual, but it turned out to be absolutely true, and in the following conversations we had he never hesitated to answer any of my questions or to spontaneously offer information. We quickly became close. In fact, I ended up marrying that guy and having my kids with him!

That being said, it can be very tempting, and pretty easy, for most of us to add to the truth, to embellish the facts, or to dissimulate part of the truth. (I actually told «future husband» I was a psychologist back then, when in fact I was still an undergrad! He saw through it right away.) I could say I'm an oceanic lifeguard when in fact I «only» have the continental beach certificate (which applies to lake beaches but not ocean beaches). I know the field enough that I could probably talk about oceanic lifeguarding without triggering any suspicion. I could also imply, without stating it explicitly (a lie by omission if you will), that I am still a lifeguard, when in fact I haven't worked as one (and haven't renewed my qualifications except for first aid and CPR) in about 12 years!

Such lies would make me feel more interesting and more important, I guess, and would elicit more admiration from whoever I tell the lie to, possibly. They wouldn't be big lies, and they wouldn't have big consequences. Still, they would be lies, and there are 2 problems with that:

1) Feeling the need to lie reveals a deeper problem. Mythomania is a disease, and even a less intense use of lies is the sign of something gone wrong! The consequences of a lie are not half as important, in my opinion, as the question of WHY someone feels like lying in the first place. If you've ever lied, can you ask yourself the following question, and answer it honestly: what motivated you to lie?

2) Failing to establish an honest interaction with others prevents genuine relationships from blooming. It obscures and falsifies the whole interaction. Lying builds a wall between us and others, and makes true connections and gratifying relationships become almost impossible. Even without lying per se, omitting certain details or being too secretive maintains the distance and makes it hard for others to relate to us... to feel affection for us, even. In fact, the quickest way to become intimate and to generate affection usually is to present ourselves as we are, with our flaws and vulnerability. To open up and show our guts. When we fail to do that, and even if there is no lie, others will wonder if we have something to hide.




Finally, the quest for honesty also (and most importantly) applies to ourselves. We lie to ourselves all the time, and those are the hardest lies to decipher because of the power of denial, cognitive dissonance and so many other processes that often baffle our subconscious.

Have you been lying to others lately?

Have you been lying to yourself?

Have you minimized the consequences of such lies?

Have you failed to let the whole truth shine?

Don't you think you should address the situation... even if it was «just» little white lies, or lies by omission? Remember: a fault confessed is half redressed!

Why do you think you resort to lies?

What do you gain from it?

But most importantly, what do you lose from it, and what would you gain from being more transparent?




18 comments:

  1. Hey Julie! I think we've all been guilty of white little lies or lies by omission! Sometimes to improve our image and sometimes to attain our goals (hidden agenda, anyone?) As long as it doesn't hurt anyone......

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    1. Hidden agendas: haha!

      Ya, I guess if it doesn't hurt anyone... and sometimes lies protect people from being hurt... it all depends on the circumstances. But it usually feels better to tell the truth, the whole truth and only the truth! :-)

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  2. I think there is a lot of lying on fitness and weight loss blogs. A person says they lost XXX pounds, but then you see a picture of the purported weight they *say* they are, and you just know that they lost a LOT less than that. I'm not sure why people do that--maybe to just get readership because normal or close to normal weight is not very sensational.

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    1. You are probably right. Sensational before-after pictures and stories are much more interesting!

      I think there is also a lot of lying to oneself during the weight loss journey. If there wasn't, we would all lose rather quickly and would never have setbacks. :-)

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  3. I was raised to be very honest. Something my parents may have occasionally regretted when I lived up to that to their embarrassment, lol!

    Everyone lies sometimes. There are times when it is selfish to tell the truth if it causes needless pain to another. Also, telling the truth and giving one's opinion are not one and the same.

    Not a simple topic, as evidenced by the variety of nose lengths in the world :-)

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    1. I like your nuanced position, Dr. J! Good points about telling the truth if it causes pain and the distinction between telling the truth and giving an opinion.

      I have been too honest many times, and probably embarrassed my parents as well! LOL

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  4. Très intéressant ... je pense que nous mentons tous, mais pas au même degré. Et que nous mentons souvent pour des petites choses, pas dans le but de cacher une vérité, mais de nous faciliter la vie ou d'écourter nos discussions. Merci pour ce sujet. Fred

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    1. Merci pour ton sage commentaire, Fred! Passe une belle journée! :-)

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  5. Ahem... I think you "missed" a few areas/walls in the house. We have about 120 linear METERS of bookshelves, more like 390 linear feet, and some are doubled up :-)

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    1. Okay, okay! Well obviously we won't lack reading material for a while! :-)

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  6. Great post!!!
    I have many faults, and I know that I have occasionally lied by omission or not told a whole truth but it is pretty rare. Lying is probably the one thing that I can't tolerate - my boys know that they will get in 10x more trouble if they lie about something than if they just tell me what happened!!
    And, lying about fitness stuff - I don't really get the point because the only one that really hurts is yourself.

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    1. Agree that often, when you lie, the only one you hurt is yourself! Even if it's only apparent in the long run.

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  7. There are people who pretend they are German? And I'm saying that being German for real :)

    That being said, I do believe that we all lie, every day. How many of us being asked "how are you?" reply with, "fine," despite just having discovered a dent in the brand new car and suspecting to be coming down with what suspiciously looks like your own special strain of the flu?

    Lies like these simply make our social interactions smoother, others of course are dastardly ("me cheat on you? Never!") and there is a fine, sometimes rather hazy, line between them.

    But I do believe that life without lying could be impossible.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Haha, yes, some people seem to think it would make them more interesting if they were German. ;-)

      My French commenter up there (Fred) had a good point when she said that oftentimes we lie to make our lives easier. You hit on that with your comment too.

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  8. I have known people who lied as part of who they were. In many cases it seemed as though they were trying to make themselves look better.

    I think we need to use our discernment that we are all born with when reading things on the Internet or even in our real life interactions.

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    1. Very right, Diane! I find it unfortunate that I "have to" doubt people's sincerity sometimes, but when my guts tells me to, I do (of course I don't confront them directly, for I don't like conflict... and what if I was wrong?)

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  9. Fortunately or unfortunately, I suck at lying, so I'm pretty much stuck with the truth.

    I do seem to have either a better bullshit detector than average, or just a suspicious personality, because I tend to spot liars more quickly than most. I don't necessarily call them on it but stay as FAR away as possible.

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    1. Confronting liars usually brings no interesting results... I usually pretend I believe them but I keep my - emotional - distance.

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