Saturday, April 14, 2012

On Lying

JAN: Because I believe some things never change, I've reposted this 2009 blog.

"And, after all, what is a lie? 'Tis but The truth in masquerade"

Lord Byron

JAN: Do people really lie three times within 10 minutes of meeting someone new? That's a popular statistic circulating the web. Even as a journalist, always searching for lies, I found this tough to believe.

But then I realized. Hey, It's true. I probably lie a minimum of three times within the first ten minutes of a cocktail party. At least by the way the study defines lying.

Included in the definition are things like falsely agreeing with others and the misrepresentation of feelings. Ever choke back the way you really think?? I do it all the time.

Let me explain. Politically, I'm probably to the left of 80 percent of the country. Personally, of course, I think I'm dead center, with some surprising views on various issues that keep both the conservative and the liberal action groups sending me mail. But I live in Massachusetts, so by local standards, I'm a raging conservative. And because I'm a writer, people take it for granted that I'm liberal. They make statements presuming I agree with them. Do I jump into it?

It would mean a verbal fist fight, and because I believe that no one has ever really swayed anyone's political beliefs by cocktail conversation, I smile and say nothing.

For me, it's politics. For others it's religion, music, or whether they actually enjoy the ballet. I know people who have to lie to stop people from shoving a cocktail into their hands. Sometimes we just keep our mouths shut because it just doesn't seem right to tell your best friend her new hairdo looks like straw or that her new drapes are making you dizzy.

So come on, fess up: What do you LIE about??

HALLIE: Here's what I don't lie about. My age. Or what I paid for the outfit you just complimented me on, bless you.

But yes, if someone starts in on anything political, I don't so much lie as refuse to engage. My politics are my personal business, thank you very much. Besides, it seems like I rarely meet anyone who is genuinely interested in engaging in a discussion on issues--they just want to be clever and dismissive and yell. So I shut down. Is that lying?

JAN: Yes, according to this study's definition: You are lying about your feelings, God forbid.

RO: My first instinct was to protest that I never lie, but reading your definition of lying I guess I do. I went to a reunion recently...and definitely dropped a few omissions/lies there. And Bouchercon is coming up...oooh I'll probably do a bit of fibbing there. (e.g., "It's an honor just to be nominated!") I try not to make a habit of it, though, because I'm really a terrible liar. My mother always used to say that and I think she did it just to spook me into always telling her the truth. She said she could always tell when I was lying and now I think everyone else can too.

So Hallie...where did you get that wonderful black shoulder bag you have...the small one with the metal clasp? Was it fabulously expensive? (This is a test.)

HALLIE: Ooooh,isn't it great? Italy! At a factory outlet...gorgeousness for less than $50.00. Unless you count the cost of the trip. Those Italians really know how to make gorgeous handbags.

HANK: I guess...I do...I always feel SO GUILTY,though. Social excuses, mostly.(Oh, so sorry we can't make it, because...but most often I don't give a reason.) And I actually do lie about the cost of things. Actually, I don't lie, I just don't tell. And in political discussions, I generally just try to prevent the other two guys from fighting.

There's a person I see from time to time, and if you ask her a question, she'll often begin her answer with "I'm not gonna lie to you, but..." I just instantly decide whatever she's saying is not true. (And RO, it IS an honor to be nominated for an Anthony. No lie. Congratulations!)

JAN: Okay everyone, what do YOU LIE about? 


  1. I won't falsely agree with others, but I hold back what I really think a lot. So by this definition I guess I lie a lot. I don't withhold because I'm afraid to say what I think. I withhold because sometimes I'm with a group of people (usually strangers) who won't value it -- and I'm selfish with my communication energy. I'd rather discuss things with people who are willing to engage than throw out my opinions in the middle of some rant session with people locked in to their own rhetoric and/or grandstanding. Now this is on general topics -- say, seatbelt laws or health care reform or Michael Jackson. It's a choose your battles thing.

    Jan, we may be much of a muchness on this.

    There are some kinds of discourse or topics I won't be silent about, ever: cruelty/abuse issues, hate speech, xenophobia, for example. Now if the Michael Jackson or health care reform discussion crosses into one of these areas -- look out. }:>

    Like Hallie, I am always honest about my age. These days, and having too many friends critically ill, I feel really proud to have gotten there reasonably intact in the first place.

    (And congratulationson the Anthony nomination, Rosemary!)

  2. Hi Susannah,
    I'm with you and Hallie on the age thing. Every year is an achievement. Besides, who wants to lie about being younger and then have people think you look OLD for your (imaginary) age??


  3. When I first read the post this morning, I thought to comment, "When a non-writer friend who knows that I write asks me how the writing is going, I usually lie, 'fine.' When I really want to scream: 'No! I'm stuck halfway through the book! It's going terribly!'" So instead of posting a comment, I kept my butt in the chair and got at least a little unstuck. So thank you for the prod.


  4. Uh oh. Here comes The Devil's Advocate. :-) I sometimes think lying gets a bad rap.

    Is "tak(ing) your frown and turn(ing) it upside down" a lie? Yup. Going out when you'd rather stay home and watch re-runs of House? Sure.

    But committing such "lies" are all healthy behaviors, as opposed to the truth.

    Maybe I'm splitting hairs. After all, I have enough split ends that I'm apparently pretty good at that. :)

  5. Ricky Gervais' current movie, "The Invention of Lying," could make relevant comment to this thread. He's the only guy who can lie in a world that only knows the truth and is, thus, extremely gullible.

    But not only do the people in this world always tell the truth, they don't withhold any thought at all. That candor is sometimes funny (a waiter: "I tasted a little of your drink before I brought it") and sometimes bittersweet, even painful.

  6. Edith,

    I'm glad we gave you a prod!! Awful days are necessary, I think though,to get to that next day when suddenly the clouds part and you can write.

    I'm with you. I think telling everyone exactly how you feel despite the circumstances, is a bit of an indulgence. Does everyone care to know how I feel all the time. I strongly doubt it.

    Susannah -- I'll have to go see it!

  7. "I think telling everyone exactly how you feel despite the circumstances, is a bit of an indulgence. Does everyone care to know how I feel all the time. I strongly doubt it."

    I'd like that embroidered and framed. Right where I can see it. Often.

  8. I hold back comments in certain areas of conversation - definitely politics and religion. It's just not worth getting into, and I try to leave the situation asap. I THINK I'm pretty honest otherwise. I'll have to check up on myself and see :)

  9. Hi Jemi,

    I think we're all fairly honest. I think the definition of lying is what's wrong!!!

  10. Jan, I'm with you in doubting the definition of lying. I'm pretty fierce about honesty, but that doesn't mean I will tell a friend who's happy with her hairdo or outfit that it doesn't look wonderful on her, or argue with another friend who's bragging about her brilliant child, who's really kind of mediocre. To my mind, doing that would be cruelty, not honesty.

    And I may well tell a friend she looks fabulous when she's a little depressed or under the weather, because I love her and to me she always looks wonderful.

    I also try not to get into political fights, but that can be harder with so many people who seem to want to provoke them. I'd probably fit better in Massachusetts than you would, Jan, but I live here in the middle of two of the reddest states in the country--and becaus my job for so many years involved public stands on issues, people know pretty much where I stand on things. So I try to ignore all those political or religious sallies in public situations, but, like Susannah, I can't be silent about hate speech, etc.

  11. We fiction writers lie all the time because we tell stories that aren't true. But deliberate lying? I'm not very good at that. Strict upbringing, I guess.

    I agree that I simply don't engage in political debate. If friends ask me how clothing looks on them, I'm usually honest. But white lies? Sure.

    "I'm delighted to be here" at a speech when I'd really rather have stayed home.

  12. Rhys,
    I think we would all be startled if we took a count of the little white lies we tell to avoid injuring someone or causing a fuss.

    Total honesty, I think can be kind of brutish.

    You must feel the way I do in Massachusetts. Although I have the added trouble of never really agreeing with EITHER side.

    My sister in law in Annapolis was telling me how her Democrat friends are often isolated in their community, and I told her to be VERY, VERY NICE to them.

    And I think its different if you are working in politics or merely spectating. Most people I know who work in politics are more pragmatic about the other view.


  13. Yes, Jan, and in some ways I am like you because, though very liberal, I want nothing to do with some excesses. And coming from a poor background, I understand why the folks the conservatives have roused with the Tea Party are unhappy and why they see liberals as the elite enemy (though I don't necessarily agree).

  14. Jan, I wish I'd had this blog when I was practicing family therapy in Boston. And I don't mean just for my clients. The therapeutic relationship can be dangerous with a certain type of truth wielding. Okay... this is finding its way into my protag's story.

    Rhys, I love the telling of truth through fiction.

    Linda, I feel the same about the cruelty aspect of truth telling. What purpose does it serve to try to enlighten a loving mother about her less than brilliant child?

  15. I think of white lies as ways of avoiding hurting people.
    I never saw the value of hurting people by someone who evokes the "Well, if you can't take the truth..." I think it's a way to exert power, and not having to think. That said, If someone asks me my opinion or I see something to be patently false, I try to (diplomatically) express my opinion. I suffer more from the sin of omission. Of course, that can be frustrating too. I just have enough conflict in my life, don't want anymore.

  16. Yes, I agree. I won't give false opinions, but I'm big on omission.

  17. Misdirection is a form of lying without actually lying, and I'm aces at that, as is my wife. I learned in the theatre -- "Oh, that was an AMAZING performance!" -- and hers was in the military, since she was in back when being gay got you close personal time in Leavenworth. It's the art of telling *A* truth, but not perhaps a relevent or direct truth.

  18. I'm just a big one on not hurting people "for their own good." I agree that it's often a power trip for the person who does it.

    Also, the situation is paramount. I might confront a family member or beloved friend about some self-destructive habit if I felt they might listen to me. But family holidays or neighborhood parties are no place for this kind of thing, no matter how well-intentioned.

  19. I lie a lot since I've had cancer. Because, like Susannah said, telling everyone how I really feel is a bit of an indulgence, AND no one wants to hear details of my nausea...

    My mother used to say tell me that it was no ones business about my religion or politics, and I was never discuss either in polite company, so I avoid those subjects.

    I used to lie about my age. Now I can never remember how old I really am. :)