Lions and Tigers and Liars, Oh My!

July 30th, 2017

We’ve been lying as long as we’ve had language. 

Research shows that a child’s ability to bend the truth is a developmental milestone, much like walking and talking.  While our noses don’t grow like Pinocchio’s when we lie, research shows a person’s nose can “heat up” when they lie.

Liars populate our literature (Gatsby; Lady Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones), movies (Liar Liar, Fargo, Marisa Coulter in The Golden Compass; Catch Me If You Can) and TV shows (Claire Underwood in House of Cards; Pretty Little Liars, Lie to Me).  We may say we don’t like them, even that their behavior turns our stomachs, but our reading and viewing habits say we can’t get enough of them.


While we could ask a series of esoteric, rabbit-hole-diving questions about the phenomenon of lying – Is not telling the whole truth the same as telling a lie?  Is a statement we’d classify as a little white lie ok, while a statement that perpetuates a financial scam despicable?.  I’d rather take a look at our own behavior. Why? Because we can do something about our behavior.

“The liar’s punishment is, not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else.”  George Bernard Shaw

What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between these 2 statements:  “You lied about X.”  “You are a liar.”  “You lied about X”  focuses on a particular, discrete event or action.  “You are a liar” assigns a characteristic to your entire being, to the core of you.

What we say

Let’s say I was late to your meeting and, when I arrived, I said, “I’m late because of heavy traffic and construction. I apologize.”  When I know a more truthful statement would be, “I left the house later than I knew I should have to be on time. I apologize.”   Assigning the reason for my lateness to the traffic may be the social norm, but the “I left late” statement says I hold myself responsible and not the external circumstance. Locating the responsibility for the outcome in my actions rather than in the circumstances does two things:  (1) It gives me the power to produce a different outcome next time and (2) it speaks to my commitment to be responsible.

“She put the lie in my mouth.” – Irish proverb  (When someone offers you a reason for something you did/didn’t do and asks if that’s the reason and you say “yes”, even though what the person offered you isn’t the real reason, it’s a lie. Ex., A person’s face is bruised from a nose job and another person says: Were you in an accident? And the bruised person says, “Yes.”)

What others hear

Consider each of the two statements in the scenario above. How would your experience of me be different? Which one might might build trust between us? How might “I left late” create an opening for you to support me in the future?  What might be different in how you listen to what I say in the meeting?

Be scared and speak

Telling your truth – not “the” truth – is a moment-by-moment choice.  The choice is to have what you say and how you listen represent who you want to be in the moment – and the moment is all we have. Telling your truth, even when you’re scared of the repercussions from others, or the potential disruption of your own identity, is a way to reduce the hold the imaginary fears (the lions and tigers) have on us. That is a worthy outcome.

All lies aren’t the same. We lie for the greater good. We lie because the truth wouldn’t serve the greater good. It is for us to make the judgment call and live with the consequences of our judgment. I have lied in the past, and I will likely lie in the future.  I’m not boasting about my future lies. I’m being honest and aware of my humanity.   That awareness coupled with our commitment to be trustworthy serves our development to be truthful and trust worthy more than anything else.

Leave a Reply


Subscribe to the blog!

Recent Posts Archives