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Authors are humans! Yeah, right. Tell us another one. »
Given that my next book is about a liar, I’ve been thinking about lies and why we tell them a great deal for the last year or so. Weirdly, writing this book has made me lie less. I told Scott as much and he pointed out that I’d told a lie just 30 minutes before I told him that. But it was just a tiny lie, I said.1 Still counts, said he. He’s right. It does.
I do have a few friends who never lie. I have other friends who lie constantly. Never about anything important. They’re all social, make-people-feel-better, don’t-upset-the-apple-cart kind of lies.
What was the most recent lie you told? How long ago did you tell it? Why did you tell it?
Those of you who don’t lie and are appalled by lies no need to comment. I have heard your position put forth very strongly by my non-lying friends. I understand and sympathise. But I want to hear from the liars on this occasion.
Posted by Justine at 7:59, 26 February 2009 under Liar, Listening, Research | 32 Comments »
When I was in first grade, I lied a lot, until I finally figured that lying wasn’t going to make the world go the way I wanted to. So I turned to stories instead.
two big lies that year: I changed my report card, then lied about it when called into the principal’s office. Why did I lie when I was caught? Because the fourth graders had told us that the principal had a spanking machine in her closet. I was sick with terror.
Later that year I lied about it being my birthday, because I was sick of waiting, and everybody else had had one, and got to describe their cake and presents to the class. I stood up and lied, and the presents I gave myself! The main ones I remember were a radio and a color TV. Color TV! We’d heard of them, of course, but no one in my neighborhood had one–and no kid had their own. (My family didn’t get one until 1969, and this was 1958.)
Two weeks later it WAS my birthday–and it was the only time, ever, I got to invite the whole class over. I know it was to teach me a lesson, but when the girls asked why my party was two weeks after I’d said my birthday was, I lied and said my mother had burned her hands spilling coffee on them. (The girls didn’t care enough to persist, but I had all 28 of them over.) It was after that that lying seemed too fraught, and it was much easier to be who I wanted once I’d folded some paper towels into a book, taped it together, and got out my crayons.
February 26th, 2009 at 9:15 AM
My oldest son is nervous about being in rooms with closed doors. At night time, we leave his bedroom door open, but close the door to the back hallway. Every single night, we pull the door closed quietly, insisting the whole time that it’s open. The real beauty is that he has to get off his bed to see it shut. As he’s not allowed off his bed after night time, we have a built in tattling system!
February 26th, 2009 at 9:25 AM
I never lie.
February 26th, 2009 at 10:50 AM
One of the most frightening things one of my friends ever said: “I really don’t feel like I owe anyone the truth.”
February 26th, 2009 at 10:51 AM
I am definitely the make-people-feel-better, don’t-upset-the-apple-cart kind of person…I can’t tell you how many times I tell that “Little White Lie”. I have become more aware of it because we started watching this new show on tv called “Lie to me”. I know you are busy and I am not quite sure what your new book is about but if you have a free hour, go check it out…it is really good.
Keep up the good work…I need more books…;)
February 26th, 2009 at 11:11 AM
Yesterday, I told somebody I liked her sweater even though I didn’t, especially. It was just an innocuous way to break the ice & open a conversation.
February 26th, 2009 at 11:18 AM
Julia Rios Says:
I don’t remember my most recent lie, but I know one type of situation in which I am likely to lie is when someone who makes me uneasy makes romantic overtures.
Once in France, I told a guy (whose persistence, tone, and body language made me feel very uncomfortable) that my name was Kate. When he asked if I would go out with him for Halloween the next night (because I’m American and the French know that Americans are big on Halloween), I said no, I couldn’t. When he demanded a reason, I explained that in my family it was a very religious holiday, and we spent that night carving jack o’lanterns while praying. He did not find this a deterrent, so asked which church he might find me at on Sunday morning. I supplied a name, even though I don’t attend church.
Another time, also in France, a man on the street started harassing me, and I didn’t answer because I didn’t want him to hear my American accent. He kept following me and asking me why I wasn’t answering. It was late at night, and the street was empty, which was rather worrying, so I just looked at him very sadly, and pretended I had lost my voice. He was taken aback, and asked me if I was a mute. I nodded, and he apologized profusely. After that, he left me alone, obviously feeling terrible about having harassed a mute woman.
I don’t feel bad about either of those lies. It’s sad that I felt it necessary to use them, and I’m sure a braver woman might have defiantly told the guys exactly where they could go, but I think the more important thing was that I followed my instincts for self-protection. In a perfect world, men would respect women enough that uncomfortable situations like that wouldn’t come up to begin with. I find it really fascinating that the second man felt bad about having harassed a mute woman, but apparently would have felt totally justified about it if he thought I could speak.
February 26th, 2009 at 11:29 AM
As a child, I lied constantly. I lied to keep out of trouble, I lied to make my rather monotonous life seem more interesting, I lied because I could. Sometimes I got caught. Mostly I didn’t. I just didn’t look like the kind of kid who would lie like a rug.
Over the years, I’ve sublimated the impulse to gussy up inconvenient truth into writing stories and tried to fess up to my errors. What I can’t (and don’t see any reason to) change is the kind of lie I told my sister-in-law elect last night: Yes, I said. That skirt goes perfectly with that top. It doesn’t. But I’ve given her about all the advice about her wedding outfit a grown woman should give another, and she loves the skirt, and it doesn’t look horrible, and she has Issues and it’s going to be a very small wedding. So I lied.
February 26th, 2009 at 11:32 AM
Most of my lies come from conflict avoidance as well. I’ll usually say, “Oh, it’s no big deal”–even when I’m actually still mad about whatever happened. Hmm… possibly not the most mature way to deal with conflict…
February 26th, 2009 at 1:28 PM
Well, I try very hard not to lie but I’m sure I do sometimes. I just can’t remember! lol I try to tell the truth because I like knowing the truth but as a kid there was a time I lied a LOT (and ended up stopping by getting caught and a series of events).
As for your whole allergic to wheat thing, I don’t know if you’d consider this lying or not (’cause it kind of is by omission or implying something that is not true), but I tend to just word things VERY carefully. Such as, instead of stating I’m allergic to something I’d allude that I’m allergic to it without actually stating it. Like I’d say something like, “Oh I can’t, it doesn’t agree with me” or something like that. Because it might not agree with my brain, which does not want it. Do you count that as lying?
btw, there are still some things I told my parents (lies) that they believed and still don’t know are lies to this day. And I’m not telling them!! lol
February 26th, 2009 at 2:22 PM
Harry Connolly Says:
For my day job, I answer phones for a doctor’s office. People call all the time demanding to speak to someone right now, but it’s company policy that we take messages rather than transfer calls to the medical staff (with exceptions for emergencies and other specific problems that can’t wait–Your Viagra refill, though? Not an emergency).
Several times a day, if the person I’m talking to sounds demanding or rude, I tell them I’ll try to reach someone, put them on hold while I prepare a message, then come back on the phone and say the person they wanted to speak to is with a patient (which is always true–I don’t need to confirm it) and I’ll have to take a message.
I used to be uncomfortable doing that, but after being treated in to a long string of condescending lectures, no more.
February 26th, 2009 at 3:44 PM
It’s all true in my reality, that’s why I am not commenting.
February 26th, 2009 at 3:47 PM
I bought a Nintendo DS a while back, just for ME ME ME and not for my kids – so I didn’t tell them I have it.
I find I don’t play with it at all, no time, want to read much more, but I still want to keep it as mine all mine.
A while back my younger son found a game cartridge in my bedside table, and I made up a story about it being not mine, but a friend’s, who had accidentally left it at our office, and I hadn’t yet returned it to him.
And then I twittered the story and upset the friend! Who didn’t want to be part of the LIE! So now I am sorry. But not sorry enough yet to tell the kids I have a DS.
February 26th, 2009 at 4:43 PM
Dave H Says:
I commented on an author’s blog and said that I couldn’t remember the last time I lied.
February 26th, 2009 at 4:47 PM
What a coincidence! I was just watching Lie to Me on Hulu, which had me thinking about lies. I lie a lot more than I’m comfortable with, but never about anything important. Just the polite, don’t-make-anyone-feel-bad kind, usually. The one I say the most frequently is telling people that I’m fine even when I’m upset or depressed, because I don’t want to worry them, even though it might help me to talk to them. Also, if someone wants to know about something that is complicated and I don’t feel like explaining it, sometimes I lie to make it sound simpler and not important. Only when it’s something little that I don’t think they care about, though.
February 26th, 2009 at 5:20 PM
Bri Maresh Says:
I just sent off an article to my boss, apologizing for it being half a day late. I told him class ran over, and I’d had to dash to my next one and was STILL late… when in fact I was standing in the hall flirting with a cute lit major for two hours, and my next class isn’t for hours.
I’m really not feeling bad about it, either. He won’t read the article until I print it tomorrow morning, and it won’t go into the newsletter until I put it on my layout anyway.
The joys of having a boss who knows how to set deadlines, but doesn’t know how to work a word processor, let alone a more advanced template…
February 26th, 2009 at 5:51 PM
Malcolm Tredinnick Says:
I’m going through a bunch of job interviews at the moment. There’s little white lies all over the place going on there (“tell us about a mistake you’ve made” — yeah, right, I’m really not going to fudge the details on that to make myself look a little better).
Fortunately, there’s far more truth than lies involved, but the whole process is still a bit broken for the psychology that goes on between the two parties.
February 26th, 2009 at 6:44 PM
E. Kristin Anderson Says:
I often imply that I’ve read a book in order to recommend it to a customer – though I don’t think I did today. And when asked if I’ve read it outright, I tell the truth 99.9% of the time. I figure it doesn’t hurt, since I’m always recommending based on what I know of the book from my friends who have read it (and have good taste).
My lease may or may not state that we have two declawed cats when we actually have four cats of which only one is declawed. However, one of these cats only has three legs, which I like to think may or may not make up for some small part of this might be lie.
I have been known to embellish a story as I’m telling it without realizing I’m doing it. It happened a lot in high school and college, and it’s always embarassing, even though no one knows but me, when I realize what I’m saying. Thank goodness I seem to have grown out of that.
I sometimes say I’m allergic to pot, since Austin is Hippieville, USA, and I hate answering all the questions that come with saying “I don’t smoke.” I’ve also pretended I was called Lotus (to keep a guy from calling me) and to know a lot about Miles Davis’ career (to keep a guy from calling my friend) and given out fake phone numbers (a Latin King and I had a dialogue on the F train once…he also thought my name was Lotus) and pretended to be a natural red head.
But I can’t remember the very last lie I told. I’d like to think maybe it’s just been a while.
February 26th, 2009 at 9:47 PM
I see lies as truth elaboration. Remember though to quote the Thompson Twins “lies lies lies yeah they’re gonna get you. lies lies lies yeah they won’t forget you.”
February 26th, 2009 at 10:20 PM
Hypothestically speaking, it seems to me that not telling lies is not the same thing as being honest. It’s dead easy avoiding social lies by simply saying entirely truthful things that end up meaning the same thing. Which is dishonest, but useful because one can stick to the truth and not be bothered about potential getting-caught-lying fallout.
But you wanted examples. From today:
“Can I ask (Child Friend A) come over to play tomorrow?”
“No my dear. You know that (Child Friend A and B and C) mommies all have busy days with lots to do. We have to plan ahead.”
The which is true! However, the actual “no” is because we have errands to run and a house to clean and yardwork to accomplish and I didn’t want to get into an argument about it.
February 27th, 2009 at 1:04 AM
tina O.o Says:
hmmm lies.. i try not to..
but well, last semester i was going through a rough time in college and my grades kinda dropped from straight As to failing. it was the first time it happened and everyone just expected me to do fine as always, and i didnt want to disappoint them, so i showed everyone fake grades, and my parents dont know they are paying for my repeat classes… they also dont know they are paying more cuz i lost a scholarship rather than cuz of tuition increases… i’ve also pretty much lied to everyone who asked if everything was ok, cuz i didnt want to worry them…
im totally terrified they find out cuz i think all the lies are complicating everything up, and i sort of regret telling them on the first place because i’ve ended up telling more lies just to cover up the first ones. *sigh*
i’ve figured lies are a protection from getting hurt or for hurting others.. idk
February 27th, 2009 at 1:57 AM
Hmm. How can I put this? I will often find myself telling people the “lies” they need to hear at the time? Generally in the face of what I see as bullying disguised as “honesty.” I have a friend or two who feel it’s their deity-assigned mission to “cut people down to size” by “not letting people get away with anything.” I’ve seen it stagnate people horribly. In the face of that, I’ll gladly tell a whole bunch of apple-cart-steadying lies.
I have no idea if it makes me moral or not, but I don’t know that it’s my job to teach my peers lessons about themselves.
(I often tell the “that doesn’t bother me at all” lie, but I’m trying to cut down on that one!)
February 27th, 2009 at 11:58 AM
I took a half-day off from work yesterday to attend a funeral. I said the funeral was for a “close family friend.” Actually, I barely knew the guy — but his daughter is a good friend of my 16-year-old son. He wanted to go to the funeral to show his support, but he’s never been to one, and he asked me if I would go with him.
I do not feel badly about this in the least.
February 27th, 2009 at 3:04 PM
Lately i find myself lying to my boyfriend.
I’ve been telling him that i go to all of my college classes.
And oddly enough,
I’ve pretty much been honest with my mom when I tell her
i only go a few times each week.
I think he feels guilty about distracting me.
while my mom just goes on about
“in my day we never skipped college classes”
February 28th, 2009 at 5:07 AM
This morning when I said I would get out of my pajamas…
March 1st, 2009 at 12:31 AM
cherie priest Says:
I told A. that I don’t blame him for all the crap that’s happening right now. In fact, I totally *do;* and yes, I kind of hold it against him.
March 1st, 2009 at 1:26 AM
I am a very honest person naturally- I just want everything I say to be exact. But growing up, I thought of myself as a liar because of my tendency to read instead of doing homework/cleaning my room etc. So when they walked in and asked me what I was doing, and why my room was still a total wreck, if I admitted I was reading they would yell at me and I’d be in trouble.
(They weren’t anti-reading at all, they just- rightfully- thought I was reading too much at the expense of my other responsibilities.)
So if I couldn’t get away with a noncommital answer, I would lie and say, Nothing. They must have thought I spent an awful lot of time staring off vaguely into space, Luna Lovegood-like. Not true at all. But I didn’t get into trouble that way for some reason.
I think I’m past that now, anyways. Though I still read instead of cleaning my room!
March 1st, 2009 at 2:54 PM
This Isn't Even Me Says:
I lie to spare feelings, generally. This is reinforced by experience. Something about the way I tell the truth doesn’t go over well with certain kinds of people.
I suspect I’m a little sadistic, by nature, so, when I listen to my kinder (albeit, not necessarily better) angels, I will often lie rather than risk scarring someone. I have lied tremendously to accomplish this from time to time. I have even conscripted others willingly into my lies to make the lies more convincing.
Lying as lifestyle.
Sometimes, I have spread a lie around to make others into unwitting corroborators of this or that lie. Sometimes, I will sandwich a small mayonnaise of lies between two meaty truths just to make it taste better.
All this I have done without a moment’s hesitation or regret. When I feel someone really doesn’t want the truth, I am an unrepentant liar.
On the other hand, there are some things I find it impossible to lie about. I will tell you if I hate your clothes, your shoes, etc. If you story doesn’t work for me, I will tell you exactly what it is that doesn’t seem clear. If a movie didn’t work for me, I haven’t the slightest hesitation in saying exactly so.
Somehow, truth within art matters…
I have no idea, however, why aesthetics deserve such an absolute dedication to the subjective truth while the emotional well being of another person seems to trump the notion of “honesty is the best policy”.
I’d like to say that the difference between things I will and will not lie about are huge, but I’m aware they’re not.
Truth. Lies. It all feels rather arbitrary, somehow.
March 2nd, 2009 at 12:27 PM
I told my friend she was pretty, when I don’t really think she is. Actually i told her she was beautiful, and that’s definitely not true.
March 2nd, 2009 at 1:11 PM
Maureen Johnson Says:
I’ve never lied, so I shouldn’t really comment.
March 2nd, 2009 at 3:30 PM
I’ve lied to landlords. And they’ve lied to me, so I feel it all evens out.
The rental agreement said we could have a “medium sized dog” (implied adult and housebroken). Well, that exactly what the puppy we had at the time grew into, so no problem.
My most recent lie was used to get off the phone with a yappy friend whom I love dearly.
March 5th, 2009 at 3:55 PM
When I don’t want to tell the truth, but don’t want to have to lie, I just tell part of the truth. I’m not sure where that fits into the scheme of lying, but it feels better than making something up.
March 6th, 2009 at 11:03 AM
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