I understand the motivation for some lying as in my youth, I deftly manipulated the truth to my advantage. On the flipside, I am also notoriously gullible because I tend to believe I am being told the truth instead of questioning it. I am a tad embarrassed by some of the crazy bits I’ve swallowed hook, line and sinker over the years.
Smarting from this latest event, I reached for a National Geographic from last year blaring the headline “Why We Lie” in capital letters from its cover. I’d been meaning to read the article and now was the time.
The article examined why we lie, when we lie and who lies plus provided some scientific data and graphs.
Interestingly, it is believed lying emerged not long after language was developed, something noted by the magazine as “a developmental milestone,” one that is both normal and common, a behavior kids employ as they test drive their independence.
One graph broke down why we lie into four categories. Lying to promote one’s self took the lion’s share (44 percent) with separate subcategories including to gain economic or personal advantage, shape a positive image or make people laugh. The next largest category (36 percent) was to protect one’s self either to cover a personal transgression or escape or evade people. The third category (11 percent) lied to impact others: to be malicious, help people, uphold social roles or avoid rudeness. The final category was titled “unclear” (9 percent) and included pathological liars and unknown reasons for lying—even to the person doing it.
I know many fall prey to “innocent white lies,” such as telling a bride her wedding dress is beautiful even if they don’t think so, or inventing a reason not to attend a party instead of admitting they don’t want to go. Kids (and adults) typically lie to cover up and avoid repercussions for a bad behavior or decisions. I’ve known a couple of pathological liars, a scary category of sociopath. Plenty of folks lie to appear better than they actually are. And there are embellishers, who make the story a little better through the art of lying and exaggeration.
My husband is the first person I recall meeting who seemed genuinely honest about topics that mattered, which would first and foremost include our relationship. Up to that point, I can’t be sure any man I’d dated was imbued with integrity, and I certainly didn’t possess that quality myself. At that juncture, I lied to get out of trouble or avoid a lecture and sometimes to dodge participating in something. It was often a knee-jerk reaction and I lacked the grace or skills to speak honestly. My husband turned me around, breaking me of the habit (and lying is habitual) because as it turned out, dishonesty was a deal-breaker for him. A sobering reality, I changed my ways but also had to create new skills so I didn’t revert to fibs and falsehoods.
My husband also contains an innate bull detector, providing an antidote to my chronic gullibility. He has often known when our kids were lying. We are the perfect parenting duo: he is the first to question while I am the first to defend. Although my mate has self-corrected his former lying ways, he remembers all too clearly why and when he lied as a kid, which now fuels his radar.
The National Geographic article graphed lying frequency by age, as tracked by a few studies. Each age group was separated to show the percentages telling one to five lies a day, more than five lies a day and no lies per day. Think people aren’t lying to you? Think again. The percentage of folks telling one to five lies a day peaked with those aged 13-17 (59 percent) followed by those 18-44 (45 percent), 45-59 (39 percent), 60-77 (34 percent) and 6-8 (29 percent). Those figures are telling, and disturbing, if you do the math.
Honesty really is the best policy. It seems easier to lie, but when you get caught in that web of deceit, it’s anything but easy and erodes trust, making it hard to believe in the relationship. Think about what you’re gambling with the next time you are tempted to lie. And when you think about the power and guts it takes to speak our personal truths, it’s even more insidious not to act with integrity.
This column appeared in The Journal on Sunday, January 14, 2018.