Little Lies

This blog post is about lying.

It’s not a how-to because frankly, despite the fact that a good part of my working life has been about making up stories, I’m a really bad liar. I look too intently at my victim. My typically low, slightly gravelly Peggy Lee-esque voice goes Minnie Mouse high and squeaky. The small of my back pools with sweat and I feel slightly nauseated. That’s why I tend to be honest to a fault. It may be the best policy, but it’s also my best chance of not throwing up.

But the truth (really and truly) is that little lies are all around us. If you could see them in the air, they’d look like a sticky fog. Despite varying degrees of skill, we all do it. We all tell little lies. I don’t mean the kind that involve Swiss bank accounts or a mistress or a pyramid scheme that ends with you disappearing with your neighbours’ retirement savings—I mean the day-to-day lies. Who hasn’t, in a job interview, when the topic turns to salary, rounded up and thrown a few thou on top? I admit it, I have. Once while crossing the border to the Pacific Northwest with an open ticket, I responded to the guard’s enquiry as to when I’d be back in Canada with a mumbled “end of the month.” I just didn’t say which month. Many years ago, when I was very young, lots more daring and not good at turning down invitations, I ended up going to a high school dance with three different young men – none of whom, unless they’re reading this now, ever got wise to the fact. Teen girls spend an extraordinary amount of time in the bathroom. Thankfully too, the dance was held in a big, dark gym—and I was smart enough to tell all three I’d meet them there, each at a different time. I managed to pull it off and while I was a wreck of nervous exhaustion, none of the innocent were hurt.

That’s the thing though—we’re generally of the belief that it’s the big lies that do damage. The infidelity to a spouse. Lies about a gambling habit or a drug addiction or even how all four of the neighbor’s car tires, you know, the loud one who barbeques in his Speedo, complains about how you cut your grass and lets his constantly barking dog out to dig up adjoining lawns, went flat at the same time. Even the little lies can hurt us. The business meeting you made up to hide the fact that you were having coffee with the one ex your current love finds suspicious. Get found out and there’s real reason for that lack of trust, even if it was just coffee. The job seeker, whose innocent resume embellishments gets them the job but ends up reducing the productivity and upping the stress levels of their new colleagues. The faked cold or flu symptoms that might get you out of a hopelessly dull dinner party, but destroy a friendship when you forget and start discussing the great movie you saw on the same evening you were supposed to be in bed with a nice cup of NeoCitran®.

This is not a moral tale—I’m not saying we shouldn’t lie, big or small. I’m not your conscience. Hell, sometimes I’m not even my own conscience. It’s a reminder though, that sometimes the smallest, most innocent untruths, the tiny fictions that make us look better, smarter, more knowledgeable, more desirable—can have consequences, down the road, to both the tellers and the told.

And that is the honest truth. As I see it.

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