Monday, October 27, 2008

Pants on Fire

"I always tell the truth...even when I lie." -- Scarface, restaurant scene

A buddy of mine had to go through the grueling and sometimes humiliating process of being polygraphed a little while ago. One of the first questions he was asked -- to put him quickly on the defensive, no doubt -- was, "Have you ever told a lie?"

Well, of course everyone has told a lie at some point, so you can see how a questioner could build and build on that to make someone literally squirm in his or her seat about whether he or she can be trusted.

Having thought about the question for a while (not under any spotlight glare or strapped to a machine, but within the luxury of my own quiet thoughts and time) I wondered about when I lie.

The good news is that I really don't lie much. I'm not writing that in a "look at me and how great I am" type of spirit, but remember, one of the major blog themes here is the goodness of being good. Not lying is a lot like not trash-talking your co-workers -- it gives you the peace of mind never to have to worry about covering your tracks, wondering what you said and who knew it, and keeping multiple stories straight. I truly believe that life is better when you can avoid talking smack about people, and that it's also better when you don't lie.

But anyway, back to the fibbing.

The first thing I thought of (but I'll ask you for an exemption on) concerns exaggerations that serve the cause of spinning a yarn. So, if it was actually four guys that walked into the bar wearing cut-off shirts and biker jackets, it suddenly might become ten guys when I retell the story. I would expect no less from you, so I barely consider it a lie.

However, I do think that exaggerations can start to border on a lie when people fall into the "the older I get, the faster I was" bit -- particularly when stories of great athletic or partying prowess quickly go from once sorta maybe to every night ("My friends and I used to go out and drink two cases of beer...every single night..." "We used to skip school every day but still ace our tests..." "It was a different girl every single night of the week...")

But anyway, I digress. Back to the "When do I lie" question -- since I started thinking about it, I found there were two times when I've caught myself out-and-out lying to someone:

(1) Overbearing social overtures. Believe me, I'm one of the more sociable people you'll ever meet, so I'm all about social invitations, offered and received. That is, of course, except when I'm not. So back when I lived in Virginia Beach, I wasn't thrilled about it, and was in a sort of "save up money and time" mode. When I actually had free time, the last thing on earth I wanted to do, especially on a weeknight, was pay a $10 cover to see Fight Night with Kelly "The Ghost" Pavlik, sip beers, and stare at the floor with a bunch of other hapless chums sipping beer and staring at the floor. My time and money were just way too precious. So a conversation or two might have gone like this:

"Hey, you should come out with us tonight."

"Nah, I think I'm going to stay in."

Repeat x 3 or 4.

"It'll be fun, you should go. Besides, what else would you do?"

"Just hang out, I guess."

[Insert ten more minutes of haranguing, add multiple parties and reminders that 'it's not that expensive' or 'it'll be fun.']

Finally, I use the only possible means of extracting myself from the situation: "Hey, my alcoholic next-door neighbor is having personal trouble, I have to stay in to help him with something."

The thing is, that was sort of a half-truth, but basically I lied. To my credit, I tried honesty as a first approach, but when things became overbearing, I took the easy road out by inserting some B.S. that somehow worked. I feel justified because I never understand why people get that way -- it's like, am I really that much fun that it's going to change your night if I go? No way...

I assure you that I will never lie to you as a way out of a social obligation. But after the third or fourth arm tug without any real justification, I may spontaneously generate a drug-addled family member who needs my support.

(2) Intrusive personal questions. $60k. $225k. 193 lbs. There, I just told you how much I'll make this year, how much my house cost me, and how much I weigh. That should show you that I'm pretty open about a lot of things, personal life and finances included. In fact, I'll only stop there out of a general sense of appropriateness -- I don't think there's a single question that I wouldn't answer to someone who asked earnestly and sincerely. But there's the rub. I can definitely tell the difference between a person asking a question out of sincere curiosity or because they have an interest (i.e. "Hey man, I'm looking at buying a condo in much do they tend to run...?") versus someone who asks something in a sneering way or only to prove that either they are a savvier consumer (you paid $____ for a new timing belt?!?!!? Are you stupid?) or somehow disapprove of your personal life.

So, if my Spidey-senses start telling me that someone is going down a not-so-benign road with a line of questioning, I'll just clam up and say, "I don't know," mutter something unintelligible, or, if they really feel the need to badger, feel a sudden bout of amnesia when someone absolutely-insists-on-knowing-just-how-much-I-paid-for-my-couch-and-loveseat-set-from-Bob's-just-so-they-can-tell-me-I-overpaid-for-an-inferior-product. If we're being technical, that sudden onset of amnesia is its own sort of falsehood.

And those were the times that I lied.

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