We all lie, but some lies are much worse than others
When I was 14 I told my mum a shocking lie. I promised her I wouldn’t get my hair permed, then made the hairdresser straighten my new-look locks to conceal the semi-permanent wave.
Why was the lie so shocking? Because I was so easily caught out: the very next morning I emerged from the shower resembling a merino sheep and the gig was up.
We all lie, all the time. Well, not ALL the time. That would be lying. Let’s just say we all lie a lot. In fact, we’re told up to 200 lies every day, according to American social media expert and author of Liespotting, Pamela Meyer.
Mostly, they’re little white porky pies. I have a headache honey. Oh yes, I can see you’ve lost weight. That tripe was divine, what a pity there’s no left-overs.
According to research outlined in Meyer’s book, the average married couple lies in about one in 10 interactions. We lie even more when meeting strangers – around three times in the first 10 minutes.
And teenagers apparently lie in about one in five interactions with their parents. If your teen has told you she’s sleeping at a friend’s place this weekend to do some baking, research world peace and door-knock for charity, it’s probably safe to assume she’s off at Schoolies.
Meyer says lying is one of our most basic instincts, using the example of a gorilla trained in sign language who blamed her pet kitten for ripping a sink off the wall. True story.
Deception is so rife in what’s been termed our “post-truth society” that we’ve become practically ambivalent to it. Nothing really surprises us anymore.
The bigger the lie, the better the jokes. Here’s one that’s been circling the globe in Twittersphere: “Nike dropped Lance Armstrong, but didn’t drop Tiger Woods. So I guess in America you can cheat on your wife, but not on your bike.”
Without lies and drugs, Armstrong might not have achieved global fame, and as a consequence would not have inspired countless cancer victims and raised half a billion dollars for charity (or, incidentally, greatly raised the profile of SA’s own Tour Down Under).
Armstrong’s lies certainly brought the sport of cycling into disrepute, but it could be argued that they ultimately made the world a better place. Does that make them okay?
In the corporate world, where the Livestrong Foundation this week officially removed the tarnished Armstrong brand name from its title, apparently not. But most people I’ve asked still think he’s a champion, and I suppose I’d like to believe it, too.
When it comes to the art of deception, Meyer’s most profound point is this: “Lying is a cooperative act”. Essentially, deception only works when someone else agrees to believe the lie.
That goes for your wide-eyed, nine-year-old twins promising they’ve brushed their teeth; your teenage daughter denying she’s smoking when her clothes reek of cigarette smoke (sorry again mum); former CIA director David Petraeus telling his wife he’s not shagging his biographer.
And yes, it goes for the most horrendous of all lies: the abuse of children and the deception used to cover it up.
Lies lose their comedic value when they cause so much pain and devastation, so I’ll finish on a serious note: the Royal Commission into institutional child sex abuse and systematic efforts to hide evil wrongdoing.
For too long, Australians have asked too few questions about the abuse of children: why it occurs; why perpetrators aren’t brought to justice. As Meyers maintains, lies come undone when we’re courageous enough to have difficult conversations with difficult people.
If we’ve been deceived about institutional child sex abuse, it’s because we’ve let ourselves be deceived. Sometimes, the truth is just too ugly to contemplate.
The Royal Commission isn’t a moment too soon. And for all the victims out there, I sincerely hope your truth will out.
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