The black art of lying

“I really did,” Bill assured us, nodding vigorously. “I single-handedly turned that car over and saved all the people in it. That policeman said it was the darnedest thing he ever saw. I was a real strong man in my twenties,” he said, flexing his biceps. “You couldn’t find no stronger. You got any more coffee left in the pot?”

As I poured him a cup and stirred in the cream and sugar, I realized I was in for a long night of tall tales with Bill swearing every word to be true. This particular Bill is a friend of my family, but many Bills are out there looking for listeners.

I wonder what makes people tell outlandish lies that no one over four will fall for. All too obvious are the motives of the chocolate-covered three-year-old who tells her mother she hasn’t been in the cookie jar. My friend Bill’s motives are not so clear. Entertainment? Ego? Who knows? I’ve been listening to his stories for decades, and I still don’t know.

The stories I got from students come close to high fantasy too but often took on a new twist. The motivation is the same though. Gone are the days of “the dog ate my homework;” now the computer ate it.

“You see, Mrs. Ellis, I had my paper completely ready. All I had to do was print, but when I tried, my printer went crazy. You wouldn’t believe all the noises it was making. I swear. I knew I couldn’t turn in my paper in rainbow colors. I’d rather take a late grade than turn in less than my best. By the way, I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. I won’t be here, but I’ll have my paper when I come the next day.”

The next student had practiced a bit more. “Mrs. Ellis, I swear I told that stupid computer to save, but it lost my paper. I’ll have to start over tonight. I know you told us to save these papers in at least two places and I did, but Mama washed my brand-new flash drive today in the washing machine. I’ve told her a thousand times to always check my pockets for it. She never listens to me. I’m sorry, Mrs. Ellis. I’ll do better. I promise. I guess I’ll just have to check for it myself.”

Motivation for student lying is still rather transparent.

Children learn the fine art of lying early. Mama says to her child who’s dashing for the phone, “If it’s Mrs. Jones, tell her I’m not here.”

“Hello. Who is this? Mrs. Jones? Mama says she’s not here.”

As the mother grabs the phone, she laughs. “Hi, Marge. Whatever got into that child? I wasn’t talking about you, of course. Cathy Sue misunderstood what I told her. How are you? I’m glad you called. I’ve been meaning to call you.”

Ah, but all these lies are innocent. We don’t put them in the same category as the serious ones, the I-can’t-believe-someone-actually-had-the-audacity-to-tell-that-one lie.

Have you heard about the little Chinese girl who sang the national anthem for the Olympics a few years ago? She wasn’t singing it; she was lip-syncing it. The child whose angelic voice really produced it wasn’t pretty enough for all that attention from international television. The Chinese wanted the world to see the best, so they lied. They presented a false face to the world and cheated a child—two children actually. How horrible we say. How horrible indeed.

I can think of only one person in my whole lifetime who told the truth consistently and without apology. People got the truth from him whether they liked it or not,

“No, I can’t vote for you. You’re wasting my time and yours doing your politicking here. Actually, I’d walk to town to vote against you,” Daddy told the politician at his door.

“Tell him I don’t want to talk to him right now, and I probably never will,” he told my sister to tell the bearer of religious tracts.

“I don’t like the way that dress looks on you. If you didn’t want to know, you shouldn’t have asked me,” he told me, as I modeled my 70’s mini dress.

Daddy was color-blind when it came to lies—no white ones. They were all black.

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