Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
Everybody lies, a lot. And that’s the truth. This means you, and me, several times today.
Hard to believe? Scientist types say it’s so, with many studies on the hyper-prevalence of everyday lying.
Finding a straight answer on how many times people lie per day, however, is no easy task. Self-reporting studies show people lie an average of twice a day or so. But who can trust self-reporting? One dated story from Psychology Today has more reliable-sounding data. Here are a few key findings:
* Both men and women lie in about 20 percent of their exchanges with other people that last more than 10 minutes.
* Over the course of a week, people deceive about 30 percent of those with whom they interact one-on-one.
Not good. But my personal favorite scientific study on lying comes from The Onion, headlined: Chimp in Cocaine Study Starts Lying to Friends. So true! Here’s the money section:
Last February, Bobo reportedly grew so self-deluded that he believed he had become the group’s alpha male. In reality, however, his rank in the dominance hierarchy had reached a new low, especially after several cocaine-fueled episodes in which he threatened other males and then made forceful, awkward advances toward uninterested females.
“It was embarrassing,” [primatologist Daniel] Martin said. “A lot of our researchers have been unable to look at Bobo the same way since.”
My experience with lying and, really, sentience began in second grade. My teachers said I had a hankering for lying, and did it all the time. I can’t remember why. Testing boundaries, I guess.
Later in elementary school I came to a realization that’s stuck with me: Lying is too much work. I was just too lazy to put in the effort to lie to my parents. Maybe lies by omission or exaggeration, but not straight-up fabricating, which is exhausting.
So I decided that taking the heat is always better than telling a lie. That’s still my general approach.
This belief was reinforced when I was 16, and took a summer job on the county road crew. I’d been a misbehavin’ teen, having smacked up the front of my dad’s car, gotten a report card of straight Ds and had my first few tangles with booze. So my parents got me a job with the county.
The guys there were cool, and much older. Some were veterans. Others had spent time in jail.
On my first day, putting stickers on road signs, an absolutely gigantic coworker asked me where I went to school. I froze. My public high school was in the ‘burbs, and had a mostly-unfair rap as being for spoiled rich kids. (Okay, it had quite a few of them, but not me. Honest.)
Before I knew what I was doing, I said I went to an inner-city high school, setting off a cascade of lies I’d need to tell over the next three months. It was a nightmare.
By the end of the summer I’d mostly come clean. But not totally. I’ve always wondered if the group of full-timers who wanted to see me play football went to a game at that other high school and fruitlessly searched for Yours Truly. It was a hell of a lesson. By lying, I’d kept distance from people who genuinely dug me. I’m still ashamed of that Big Lie.
So that was that. Ever since I’ve tried to be a straight-shooter. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always succeed. I’m damn good at telling stories. That’s what I do, yo. And occasionally my enthusiasm for the great yarn gets the better of total accuracy. But I fight it, I swear.
As a reporter, honesty is your most valuable currency. And I spend a lot of my time trying to see if people are lying to me, or at least bull-shitting a bit. I’m not a cop–they’re amazing at spotting liars, as I’ve witnessed–but I’m not bad.
Most of us can see through the truly lost liars, even ones who believe their own whoppers. It just shows, through an uncomfortable-looking aura of twitching and wild eyes. I feel sorry for those types.
And, as a thirty-something, I’ve spent years trying to spot when I lie to myself. For example, I’m not as good of a guy as I wanted to think I was back in my twenties. Accepting that felt great. The truth really does set you free. I’m not all that “nice.” But I’m not an asshole, either. Better than Bobo at least. And that’s good enough for me.