Volume 487, Issue 1 - January 2013
To Tell You The Truth …
It starts quite early. In fact, by the time a child takes his or her first step onto the local schoolyard playground, they have already had their little minds filled with so much misinformation … falsehoods if you will … that it is easy to see why at a very young age, truth and fiction are difficult to separate.
Of course it all changes very quickly on the playground. The kids with older brothers and sisters already know the score and they are more than happy to share it. They got the truth early on … about Santa, the Tooth Fairy the Easter Bunny and all of those other characters that they had been told stories about by those adults who they loved and trusted. And as for those adults who filled their little heads with these made-up stories, they knew the day of reckoning was coming. Many even dreaded the day when their little angels would walk in the door and tell them that some of their friends had told them the truth. And some of those little angels would even look deep into their parent’s eyes and ask them why … why they had lied to them … about Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.
Sooner or later, that dreaded day always comes. It’s the day when we start to think, consciously or otherwise, that maybe everything we are told, even when it is told to us by someone we love and trust, is simply not true. Some will deal with this situation better than others. Some will move on and, at an early age, be able to separate fact from fiction more easily than others and not be thrown too far off center by the realization that life has some fluff to it … that exaggeration is to some conversations and stories as spices are to certain foods and dishes. Still others may not deal with it so easily and may even live the rest of their lives doubting both the things they are told and the people who tell them.
As a child grows, they also soon find out that “story telling” has its benefits. A little lie to the teacher can sometimes get you out of a tough situation. A false story to a friend can bring esteem or admiration, even if only for a little while. And a well-developed, if not totally falsified, excuse can even keep an upset parent from bringing down swift and deserved punishment for an improper act.
As the little human mind develops, it gains the ability to sort out the benefits and/or consequences of various actions. And it also takes in all that is going on around it, including what is taking place in the adult world close by. Alibis, excuses and exaggerations are part of daily life. And the fine line between truth and lie gets blurred. For some, it is eliminated altogether.
As the years go by, some people hone their ability to lie just as an athlete conditions his body or a scientist his mind. They get incredibly good at it and some even develop the uncanny ability to actually believe their own lies … particularly if they repeat them enough. In the process of doing research for this article I reviewed a number of studies and the statistics pertaining to this subject are incredible. One study of job applicants revealed that more than 70 percent falsified their resumes in some fashion and that almost 15 percent listed college degrees they did not have on their applications. A study by South University claims that the worst profession for lying is teachers. Sixty-five percent of teachers polled admitted to lying; 18 percent confessed to lying routinely as a part of every day life. Closer to home, a very good friend of mine who teaches graduate school marketing and economics told me of an eight-year study he did of his students who were given real life situations wherein they were given choices of behavior where lying would benefit them and there was no possible way of being caught. In those cases where the student had to identify himself, only about 11 percent said they would lie. When the test was administered anonymously, almost 70 percent said they would lie if they had no chance of getting caught. In other words, almost three quarters of them would lie for gain, but only a little more than 10 percent were honest enough to admit it. There are lots of reasons why people lie. Financial gain, ego enhancement, status, power, or the chance to hurt someone we don’t like. Sometimes revenge is a motive. We want so badly to lash out at someone we think has wronged us that we’re not about to let the truth get in the way. And when lying gets the desired results, it’s a safe bet to believe that more will follow. It’s human nature to repeat behavior that has gotten positive results in the past.
I was encouraged to write this article about lying by a couple of long-time readers with whom I had gotten into a debate about this subject. As I am always tempted to do, because I am a collector of famous sayings and such, I started to pepper this article with the quotations and platitudes of various famous writers who have spent time recording their thoughts on the matter. But in the course of discussing this with an editor friend of mine, I was sent the following short but very effective commentary which is now one of my favorites on the subject. So this is the only quotation I am going to use herein. The person who sent me this had lost their very nice job as a result of telling the truth and not being believed. In this case, the lie that had been told was more expedient, less cumbersome, and financially more beneficial than the truth.
The following is credited to Steven Berglas, a management consultant. The words in italics were changed by me to better suit this article. As for what to do about this problem, to tell you the truth … I don’t know!
“The person who lies and cheats should remember this: the liar’s punishment is not that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else. That is the true consequence of poor behavior.”
Lyle R. Hill is the managing director of Keytech
North America, a company providing research and technical services for
the glass and metal industry. Hill has more than 40 years experience in
the glass and metal industry and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read his blog on Wednesdays at lyleblog.usglassmag.com.