When I was a little girl I believed liars were a crooked, disloyal, corrupt breed. By the time I reached high school, I noticed the kids who lied the best were most likely to be popular.
In college I watched in awe as a boy I knew told gullible coeds that the scab he picked on his arm was a wound he received while skeet shooting. He also told them that he was studying to be a D.Yd…a doctor of yacht design. He crafted these fantasies to make himself seem bigger and better. And from my vantage point, he usually succeeded.
I fancied myself a poor liar. Whenever I told a fib (fib sounds so much more innocent), it was never with the fluency and ease it took to be a master. If I colored my commentary, the higher pitch of my voice and my earnest attempt to Velcro the facts into my memory usually gave me away. Lies were necessary for those who would go to any lengths to avoid confrontation…but they required a measure of comfort with risk taking that I never attained.
Today I’ve come to terms with the fact we’re all hard wired to deceive, that the capacity to mislead others is rooted in our nature. A truism like honesty is the best policy has lost favor. I tried to instill in my daughters the importance of telling the truth. I even reinforced the message with threats of dire punishment. Yet I knew all the while there’d be plenty of lies they’d have to tell; otherwise the world would eat them alive.
I can barely keep count of the lies I tell each week. That number is only exceeded by the number of lies that are told to me. This morning I heard from my garage that “Your car will be ready tomorrow morning,” and from the washing machine repairman, “I’ll be there between nine and twelve.” My busy neighbor said, as we brought out our garbage cans, “We should get together for lunch. I’ll give you a call next week.” In the mail two advertisers lied about what it would cost for their services and a local congressman lied about what he expected to accomplish this year.
I tell myself my lies save someone else’s feelings, just as I tell myself that my weight is just as accurate if I hold on to the wall when I get on the scale. But mine are not the snow white lies designed to protect an innocent soul from the awful truth of “that dress is ugly,” “I hate your cooking,” or “I don’t know how you could have married him.” I tell my lies so that others will think of me as caring and considerate. I find myself voluntarily making promises I’ll probably break, convincing myself that I’m just lubricating my social relationships.
“I want to see that show too. I’ll call you to check the dates.” “Let me know if I can help,” “Stop by on your way out east,”… in the world of virtual reality, I make my virtual promises. And I get away with it. In 2015 it seems we half expect people to not keep their word. A guy who promises to call and doesn’t would be known as a creep in my day (ugh, I can’t believe I’m old enough to have a day…), today he’s just afraid of commitment. A friend who says she’ll call and doesn’t is over committed and too busy to keep her promise. No one’s to blame; it’s the pace of modern life, right?
What’s uncomfortable is that increasingly it’s become the truth that makes me flinch, not the lie. As I remain silent when we go to the movies and ask for four senior tickets when only three of us are seniors, or I tell the charities soliciting us at dinner that I already gave, I see nothing white about my lies. Maybe there’s some sense of redemption in the fact that my actions are beginning to bother me.
Ironically I take advantage of our tell- all culture where confession has risen to an art form, to absolve myself of my sins. The people I’ve known throughout my life who’ve told the most lies were the loneliest. So I vow from now on to be aware of whether when I tell a lie, it protects the other person or me. If it’s me, I’m going to be brave enough to risk not winning the “most popular” designation. We are, after all, only as good as our word.