Truth is Relative
Why I Fib
It’s whatever I say it is
I’ve never told a lie in my life. I have, however, cultivated the art of telling non-lies, quasi-falsehoods, and fully informed bullshit — aka, fibs.
All humility aside, telling an outright, unmitigated, bald-faced lie is beneath my dignity. That’s not because I am beholden to the truth — puh-lease, don’t patronize me! I write fiction. I therefore take great pride in my skill and technique in fibbing.
All artists are, essentially, liars. Truth is ugly naked. Embellishing it a bit is just common courtesy. A straight-out lie barely covers reality’s naughty bits, and even then, they tend to slip out at embarrassing moments. Therefore, rather than simply lie, I attire my deceit in more elegant garb.
For example, I’ve adorned some of my life stories so that I don’t seem like a total dweeb. For example, it may not be 100% literally true that I put myself through college by modelling nude for bachelorette parties or that I lost my virginity while delivering pizza to an Eyes Wide Shut orgy in the governor’s mansion. In reality, I took an art class where we all took turns sketching each other, and that orgy was actually a frat party, although, in my own defense, a future governor really was there.
That work I did for the FBI back in the 90s — no, you can’t check references. It’s a matter of national security. Surely, you understand, don’t you?
Telling the truth dooms careers. I worked in higher education, where truth telling is generally regarded as a symptom of simple-mindedness. The art of rhetoric, so esteemed by academics, is really nothing more than using fancy words to lie.
Telling the truth also kills relationships. The key is to strike a sustainable compromise between unacceptable truth and implausible lies. For example, when my spouse asks, “Does this dress make my butt look fat?” I know that she will not believe “no” and will not abide “yes,” so that eliminates all truthful options.
However, this is a golden opportunity to fib creatively. “You would look beautiful in a potato sack,” flatters her while straddling the line between credibility and bullshit — never mind that even a potato sack would make her butt look huge.
Consider the deft dissimulation of the philandering boyfriend who answers, “Are you cheating on me?” by returning the question, “Don’t you think I love you enough to be faithful?” and adding “This really hurts my feelings.” The real pros can summon tears at will.
Learning deceit is thus crucial to a person’s social development. A child’s first lies are like their first drawings — inept, but adorable.
Parents usually remember a child’s first words as “mama” or “dada” or “poopoo,” because they think that’s cute; but actually most children learn “no” before their own names. As as soon they grasp the meaning of “no,” they begin to see the advantages of lying.
Even a toddler can comprehend that if the answer is “no,” try asking in a different way. Fibbing can help — for example, if you want ice cream, say “Daddy said I could have some,” or if you don’t want to go to sleep, say, “There’s a monster under my bed.”
Avoidance is also a primary motivator for lying. Consider the poise of a precious urchin who, holding a ball while standing amid the rubble of an heirloom vase insists, “I didn’t do it.” All without a flicker of conscience.
The worst thing a parent can do is punish a child for lying. That’s like spanking them for taking their first steps and insisting they crawl, instead. Besides, children understand that parents frequently lie to them — like when they say, “this won’t hurt” or “maybe.”
Rather than punishing them, let the child know that you see through their lies — not to make them feel guilty, but to suggest ways they can improve. Mastering deceit is too critical to be left for the child to pick up on the streets.
Better to leave them to learn about sex that way, though. There is a counterproductive “ick” factor to hearing it from one’s parents. It can create a mental image that will haunt a child for the rest of her life.
Science has proven that lying is an evolved characteristic. Evolution by natural selection strongly favors deceit. From the chameleon to the Venus Flytrap, deceit is nature’s way of saying, “Sucker!”
I have no doubt whatsoever that if he could, my dog would lie all the time. He already knows enough to sneak onto my favorite chair when I’m not home. I even know what he’d say — “the cat did it.”
Still, while animals are capable of various forms of prevarication, only human beings have the cognitive capacity to fib. And to believe even the most elaborate fibs — religion, for example.
It is no exaggeration to state that without fibs, we’d be less than human. We project fibs upon our deepest yearnings. Imagine how glorious it would be fib without fear of consequences. It would be like having a license to do whatever you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want.
And if you could do those things, there’d be no need to lie.
Gregg Sapp is the author of the “Holidazed” series of satires, from Evolved Publishing. firstname.lastname@example.org