By John Lee Pendall
I’m a great liar who rarely lies.
It started with storytelling. I loved making up short stories when I was a kid, and I’d always share them with my mom. I wanted to be a writer and an actor—a performer. Probably for the attention.
It’s a short trip from storytelling to lying. Fictional stories are just falsehoods that we don’t try to pass off as truths. You know it’s a story, and I know it’s a story. To be a lie, all we have to do is take out that, “You know it’s a story,” step.
I started small, lying about little things. Then I started lying more and more and my lies got bigger. I had to start lying to cover up my other lies. Sometimes we lie to get something we want or to avoid being punished. I just thought it was fun and stimulating. Making up lies on the spot forced me to use my brain. Then there’s the risk of getting caught in a lie and the rush of pulling it off. It made me feel good. It made me feel in control and superior.
But, I was just a kid (a weird kid), so my lies started getting too fantastical, like, “I saw a dragon on my way to school today!” and whatnot. When my mom caught on to my lying addiction, she sat me down and told me why lying was wrong.
I love my mom. I can’t help but think that she prevented me from growing into a full-blown psychopath. She always explained both sides of things to me: the practical and the emotional.
She said that if you lie too much, then you become a liar, and no one trusts a liar.
Then, when you tell the truth, no one’s gonna believe you. Then she said that people feel bad when you lie to them. They feel hurt. Do you want people to feel bad? I was picked on by all the kids in school, so I knew what feeling bad felt like. I didn’t want anyone else to feel that way.
After our talk, I sat on the stairs and thought about it for awhile (I still like sitting on stairs). I decided that I’d never lie again. I’ve done a pretty decent job sticking with that vow, but I did amend it when I hit puberty: I’ll only lie to authority figures that I don’t like.
The strangest thing is that I can look someone in the eye when I’m lying to them. I can be forward and speak clearly and confidently. It’s truth that turns me back into a shy, stuttering, stammering, kid who’s looking down at the floor. For instance, I could easily say, “I love you,” to anyone and sound sincere. But when I truly do love someone, when my heart aches for them, it can be hard to get the words out.
Anywho, that’s enough of John’s sharing corner for a little while. What is lying, anyway?
There’s no consensus on that, but the standard definition is, “Making a false statement to someone else with the intention that they believe it to be true.” There are four parts to a lie: the statement (which could be words, symbols, a gesture, etc.), its untruthfulness, the person you’re conveying it to (it could even be yourself), and the intention to deceive. If one of those is missing, then it isn’t a lie.
Sarcasm, jokes, acting, and so on aren’t technically lies because we’re not trying to make someone believe in false information. Sometimes people mistake sarcasm for truth, but according to the orthodox definition, that doesn’t mean they’ve been lied to—it just means that they’re dumb. Or maybe they just don’t know the sarcastic asshole well enough. I always smile when I’m being sarcastic, ya know, as a way to communicate that the other person shouldn’t take what I’m saying literally.
Deception is different.
Lies always involve deception, but deception doesn’t always involve lying. Deception goes beyond lying, and it can even include making truthful statements for dishonest reasons.
If I say to someone, “I’m wealthy,” then I’ve told them a lie because I’m poor as shit. If I dress in a nice suit that I’ve saved up for and pretend that I’m wealthy for a night, then I’m being deceitful even if I never say, “I’m wealthy.”
We can also deceive people on accident by: repeating falsehoods that we heard elsewhere; saying something without thinking about whether it’s true or not; not correcting someone else’s false belief; being silent when what we want to say would change someone’s view about us and so on.
Not lying is easy, but not being deceptive? That can be a challenge. Even the littlest things can be deceitful. If I have a pimple and put on some coverup or something so that no one sees it, that’s technically deception. If someone says, “Jim’s a nice guy,” and I want to say, “I don’t like him,” but instead I say nothing, then that’s deception too.
I’m not a liar, but I’m definitely a deceiver, especially if someone asks me about my views on something—particularly my views about myself. There’s nothing I can say that can encompass everything I think or feel, 90% of it is going to be left out because there’s just not enough time to go through all of it.
I told a friend, “I put serious thought into becoming a monk, but I decided against it.” “Why?” After a pause I said, “Too rebellious.” “Ah,” she replied. She knew there was more to it than that, and she was right.
There’s a long list of reasons why I decided to not be a monk. “Too rebellious,” is just one of them. In that moment, after she asked, I actually watched my mind scan through all my possible answers before choosing that one.
I could’ve also said, “I like pizza,” “I like music and going to concerts,” “I like women (especially you),” and all of those would be true. I should have went with the pizza one, that would have gotten a giggle.
Is it possible to not be deceptive, to accurately represent ourselves—our whole selves—at all times? Or can we just offer glimpses and hope that others can piece together a relatively accurate version of who we are?
I’d say that, to live without deceiving others, you’d have to have an extremely simple inner life. All the noise, all the contradictory clutter that tends to float around in our minds, would have to go. I’d have to be of one mind, not layered and torn.
Until then, can any of us accurately represent ourselves, or will there always be that “Yes, but,” or, “Yes, and,” that’s kept in silence? Is deception wrong if we can’t help it—if we’re being as genuine as we can be?
Maybe it’s okay to not vomit our hearts and minds all over the place as long as our motives are innocent. There’s a difference between deceiving because we lack the words and deceiving to manipulate others, but we’ll tackle manipulation next time.
Editor: Dana Gornall