I’m in a bind. I’ve just discovered that an old friend has been lying to me, and other friends, about almost everything, from where she lives to what she does to the man she’s involved with. The odd thing is she volunteered all the information herself. No one asked her anything; so all the lies are totally unnecessary. And yet they’re out there.
Now the truth is that everyone lies. Anybody who says he or she doesn’t is certainly lying about that. But the idea that all lies are bad and all truths are good is an oversimplification. If a neighbour asks you how you’re doing and you say fine, even though you’ve just lost your job, you’re lying but it’s all right. Saying the same thing to your wife, however, is certainly not all right. That is a whopper of a lie, even it’s by omission. It basically comes down to the reason for the lie.
According to a 2002 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, 60 per cent of adults lie at least once even in a 10-minute conversation. Forget adults. By age four, 90 per cent of kids understand the concept of lying. Parents reportedly get the worst of it, at 86 per cent, followed by friends (75 per cent), siblings (73 per cent), and spouses (69 per cent). Men fib more than women who—surprise, surprise—lie most about their weight. Men lie about being taller, richer, and/or better educated than they
Most of the lies people tell are white ones. They’re harmless, even kind, largely aimed at protecting someone’s feelings or keeping the peace. (Think “Am I looking fat in this outfit?” or “Do you like my new shirt?”.) Then there’s the lying to fit in or seem more culturally aware. Like when you claim to have read a book or seen a film that you haven’t. A BBC survey earlier this year revealed that Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, followed by George Orwell’s 1984 and JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings have triggered the most literary fibs. Very different in genre but almost as well known, Fifty Shades is another book that people lie to their friends about having read. The movies that are most fibbed about are The Godfather, Casablanca and Taxi Driver.
These are lies one can understand. Hiding the fact that you haven’t seen Sholay only preserves your image of yourself; it doesn’t hurt anyone.
But what does one do when, as in the case of my fibbing friend, puffery becomes the norm? Can you stay friends with someone who perennially tells tall stories, even if the stories are not motivated by malicious intent? Sociologist Harold Garfinkel famously demonstrated that humans trust people to be doing what they claim to be doing. It’s only when they start questioning their motives instead of trusting them that social interactions grind to a halt, he said. Is that what comes next? Answers anyone?