Sweet Little Lies
The ability to lie in contemporary society is a sign of maturity, acceptance, and the skilled management of situations where the raw truth would hurt those fabulists who concoct their way out of a situation, or conversely, engage in puffery. It might be honest to tell a prospective employer that your tardiness is due to the fact that you overslept, but is it wise? “Stuck in traffic,” is the self-preserving lie. And it might be just as wise to suggest to this same would-be employer that you and you alone, solved a months-long and vexing problem at your last firm.
There are all kinds of lies: lies of ambiguity that are often comical; the bluff—a lie of the tactician; white lies that are a kindness, as in,“Yes Grandma, I loved the reindeer sweater you got me.” There are brazen lies, lies of conceit, equivocation, fraud, and exaggeration. There are institutional and noble lies, and lies because we don’t owe the truth to everyone; some aspects of our lives are private, although queries that would never have been considered in the past are often made. So we couch the truth. We tell a tale as cover, we bluff or distort—there are distinctions to the art of deceit. In fact there are at least forty synonyms in the English lexicon for untruths, all with nuanced meanings. Obviously deceptions, humbugs, and fabrications are important to English speakers.
The truth is, we all lie.
Anatole France claimed, “Without lies, humanity would perish of despair and boredom.” He may have been right . . . . Studies show that the art of the whopper is the daily practice of teenagers and septuagenarians alike—a social lie or two, a snippet of exaggeration . . . and the more we lie, the less meaning real truth has. Most people as they grow older, become less aware of the wrongfulness of lying. It is simply a fact of life. Our childhood fears of sin and wrongdoing fade when it comes to stretching the truth.
Women lie more often than men, and more often to save themselves or others from embarrassment, awkwardness, and the like. Women lie as a kindness, and most of them learned this tactic from their mothers. Saving face is always worth the price of a lie, so goes the maternal advice.
While women look to quiet a situation, blend in, obscure the facts delicately, men lie more often out of self-aggrandizement—they exaggerate their worth, importance, and accomplishments. The lies are about raising their profiles and calling attention to themselves, which all makes sense from a biological and evolutionary point of view.
According to Dr. Victoria Talwar, this dubious ability is first learned by the age of four when preschoolers begin to understand social constraints, but believe they can sell their fibs, and deny the chocolate smear or the gumball stretched in their cheek. They know, just as the adults around them do, what the real truth is. If a kid is really bright, they master this skill somewhere in their third year.
Dressing up the truth allows most of us to live in an illusion of status quo, where change is discouraged and prosperity flourishes. Truth is messy; reality causes panic, and that undermines stability. These intangibles—the pesky truth of a situation—play havoc in world markets—and that—we cannot tolerate.
Despite tenaciously holding onto our lies, we’re losing anyway—family and friends to cancer treatments that do not cure, but delay death and cause illnesses that are just as lethal—the high cost of hope. But few of us would do less in those circumstances.
We are losing landmass, animal species—caribou and reindeer, polar bears, and North Atlantic cod—and forests due to global warming as well; the ice caps are melting, and trees are dying off in Montana and the Dakotas. Pine Beetles breed longer, produce more offspring, and eat more trees. Why? Because of the three the four degree temperature uptick in that region.
But politicians in the United States play the game of denial, because in general, we are not wired for the long view. We prefer the lie, and so the majority goes along for the ride.
Doom and gloom is replaced with our obsession with youth, identity, straight white teeth, learning how to play the game, and much more that is all about short-term gain, and requires the careful grooming of prevarication. There are fewer views that look fifty years hence, and those who have that kind of wisdom to pass on, people with white hair and stiff joints—are, for the most part, not revered in our culture.
We buy and lie in our futile efforts to push reality back, and just as politicians and world leaders have always depended on lies, we do as well. Of course there is the codicil: There is some truth in every lie; the snippet of truth hidden in complicated statements, layered in mire. Within those murky waters, there is a clearing where truth remains unfettered, and this is what makes the deceit easier to swallow. We hang onto that morsel of truth.
But in this political season, where once again voters must wade their way through questionable statements, outrageous claims, and hyperbole on steroids, we must make our decisions and cast our votes.
Mr. Trump, as reported by political fact checkers, lied over 60% of the time in an analysis of 158 statements, while Mrs. Clinton lied in 13% of 120 statements. Yet, Hilary Clinton is perceived as more dishonest than Donald Trump. Why?
In part, it goes to why and how men and women lie. Mrs. Clinton distorts to save face, to preserve, to minimize, while Mr. Trump fabricates to inflate, to exaggerate, and to maximize.
And then there is this: professionals who lie are judged by position and gender. If a male president of a woman’s college lies, he will be judged harshly; were he the president of a co-ed or men’s college, his reputation would be less harmed. But if a woman lies in a position traditionally filled by men, she will be perceived as more dishonest. Again, there is disparity in how and why dishonesty is perceived and judged for men and woman.
We see all of this clearly playing out in this election cycle. The bottom line, despite skewed perceptions, is that Donald Trump lies far more than he tells the truth, and extraordinarily more than Hilary Clinton, and each in the way that is typical of their gender. That they invent, prevaricate, and allow pretense should be of little shock to any of us.
Then again, we are all liars, but I wonder if we have gone too far . . .
“When a man lies, he murders some part of the world”