L is for Lies …
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
Lies are terrible things, aren’t they? We should never say them, we should never accept them. But we all tell them, don’t we? Is there a time when it’s okay to lie? What is a lie, and what is … not quite a lie?
So there’s the big fat ugly lies that are absolutely wrong, like ‘I’m working late darling’ when you know you’re off to some place you shouldn’t. This end of the scale also is home to things like Perjury, when you tell something you know to anything less than the truth, and try to pass it off as the Truth.
At the opposite end of the scale, there the stories we tell about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Stork, or perhaps you said the Cabbage Patch? These are the acceptable lies told to children all over, not to harm them or mislead them but to explain away secrets and make childhood magical.
When it comes to deciding – or knowing – the difference between right and wrong, it’s this vague in-between grey area that causes so much confusion. As your child (who loves those lies about Santa and the Easter Bunny) grows up, you will be faced with a selection of deceitful delights, as darling little Jonny (or Jenny as the case may be) paddles through their childhood testing the waters of accidents, pushing their luck, and completely stuffing up! It’s not the end of the world when your little treasure says “Not me Mummy!” when you ask “who made this mess?” but by letting your child get away with trivial little lies you are actually teaching them it’s ok to do so. It’s one of those tough parts of parenthood when you need to do these hard yards and have your child hate you for it. But they only hate you briefly – it’s over and done with and a lesson is learnt.
Once your child is at school or even college, they really need to understand the importance of honesty and parents really need to have learnt the ways to tell if they are lying! This is the time for the common “staying at a friends’ house” lie… its common because teenagers since Adam was a cowboy have tried it.
When a cute toddler tells a cute little lie, it’s … well… cute. But there is nothing cute about a teenager, or young adult lying and thinking they should get away with it. Sadly, by this time if a kid thinks lying is an option there is little anyone can do except Absolutely Reject the lie. Kids need boundaries and they will actually appreciate them in the (not-too) long run.
A child who is given too much freedom and not enough guidelines will tend to grow into one of the kids you read about in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. I know this is a generalisation and I mean no disrespect to the very many wonderful kids-teens-youth that I know who have turned out pretty marvellously.
So when you lie to a person, what does it tell them? Well, from my point of view I feel quite alright calling a person up on a lie, when I know they’ve done it. My daughters discovered over their young years and tested it in varying amounts with varying amounts of failure 🙂 one said quite plainly, she wouldn’t bother because she always got found out (Whew!). My kids, my step-kids, my kids’ friends… I could tell when they were lying and I pulled them up every time. Calmly. Firmly. Fairly. Well that was the goal, anyway, and we didn’t have much trouble with it.
Somehow you expect kids to push their luck and test the boundaries, and lying is part of that. When you come across an adult who lies to you, well that’s quite different. There are situations when you know someone is lying, and you think Why??? But you can’t really point it out because the social boundaries dictate it’s not polite to do so. Occasionally I’ve said something like, “Nah.. Bullshit!” with a big smile, hoping it will get passed off as a bit of leg-pull. Trouble is, if they hold to the lie, you simply lose faith in them.
That happened at work the other day when a bloke called in from elsewhere, and we had a bit of a natter, something popped into the conversation, and he said “oh no, not me, that was so-and-so” and inside I was thinking… You Big Fat Liar! (Nothing to do with body shape, just the size of the lie). Right there, looking me in the face, he lied. And I knew it. I wonder if he knew I knew? And the subject was so trivial, it wasn’t worth a lie. Trouble is, now I don’t trust anything much from him at all.
I’ve had conversations along the lines that a small lie is ok, but not a big one. Hmmm does size matter? No, I don’t think so. It’s not the size, it what you do with it – the lie is still dishonest. Now occasionally, in social situations, you may find yourself wanting to lie to get out of something like, “Sorry, I’m expected in a meeting” to be able to leave someone who doesn’t know when to stop talking. I love the one we hear on the train, “sorry, got to go – about to go into a tunnel” no, we’re not, there’s no more for half an hour!! Haha. These sort of lies and the ones where both parties know it’s a lie – but it’s the polite way to do it (the clash in your diaries prevent a lunch meeting?) they’re common, and not intended to cause any hurt – quite the opposite, they’re used to soften something or to be polite. (Better than, “OK, I’m kind of over this conversation now, I’m going back to my book” on the train). So these tend to be in business, or social situations rather than amongst close friends/family etc.
My thoughts are, within a family and certainly between spouses, then absolute honesty is the way to go. That includes the questions on “how do I look in this?” Or do you think I should … ? Some people argue that saying I look lovely in this colour is to prevent hurting feelings. Rubbish! Does my bum look big in this? I really would prefer you to tell me: yeah, it’s not a great shape for you… Than fluff around saying “No, you look great!” cos I will work out that I look terrible in that thing, then I’ll be annoyed with you for letting me out in public looking like a camping advert! If I trust you enough to ask your opinion, then you are a good enough friend to give it. Tact is always welcome, but honesty is what I want to hear. My mum would hold something up say, “ooh isn’t this lovely for you?” inside I might think: What? Me? No way! … but on the outside I reply something like, Hmm I’m not sure about that fabric/colour/style or something, so I’m saying No, but nicely. If you ask me my opinion, then I will be flattered you trust it and I’ll be gently honest.
My other views on lying within a family group (rather than polite work circles) is that if you are prepared to lie over something trivial then you may over something bigger too.
If a husband will say he’s working late cos he wants a beer with the lads, then he is just as capable of saying the same thing if it’s a lady not a lad…
My kids learnt that through their school years, and my husband learnt that when he was trying to give up smoking and not doing very well 🙂 he tried to just smoke at work so I wouldn’t know he was caving in. I’d shower him with praise and encouragement. But then I’d get a whiff… just a hint… but I’d know… Well! That was a strongly worded conversation! He’s still trying to give up, but he doesn’t try hiding it any more xxx and I’m ever willing to encourage him!
But seriously, let’s be honest with ourselves. Would you trust the word of a person you know will lie about something? I’m not sure who said it the first time but it’s been said many times since: It can take years to build trust and only a moment, only a doubt, to destroy it.
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now I can’t believe you”
Something that bugs me about a person who has lied to you… is that they act as though it’s then wrong of you to mistrust them, why is that?
“Fool me once then shame on you, fool me twice then shame on me.” It’s up to me to trust my own instincts when it comes to believing a person who has lied to me before. Sure, sometimes you can trust them again, sometimes there was a reason or maybe they learnt not to… sadly sometimes not.
So think carefully on these questions:
Is the lie worth tossing a relationship away? Because if you toss away the honesty and trust then what else will follow?
“I’d rather hurt you honestly than mislead you with a lie…” Rod Stewart
Also consider the lies you tell yourself… hmmm there’s a fine line between encouraging yourself and thinking positive, and just kidding yourself. This might be overestimating your abilities, or perhaps telling yourself ‘it will be ok’ when you know deep down that it won’t. The biggest lie ever spoken is “I’m fine.” … I sometimes think that one is a bit like the pitch of a salesman. Which brings us to a whole new section! Exaggerations, bullshit, and tall tales… Salesmen (and women) get a bad rap about not being believable, but they kinda deserve it. I’ve been spun stories by one or two in particular… they have not liked it when I call them to task on something they say. Occasionally I’ve asked for something in writing, and been a weeee bit blunt telling them not to spin me along. Euphemisms are another kind of lie. Like me saying I was just a wee bit blunt 🙂 they’re considered less of a lie and more of a gentler way of putting things.
So, really think carefully about the words you use. You are responsible for your words just as much as for your actions… and sticks and stones can break bones but words will hurt you just as easily, and can leave scars all the same.