The art of lying


Kirsten Buchanan

Lying in families
Cringing, senior Amelia Williams runs through her options. She can tell her dad the truth – that she doesn’t want to visit him because it will caused problems between her divorced parents – or she could avoid the problem with a small fib.
“I can’t visit you this time,” she tells her dad, quickly rattling off an excuse.
She hates lying, but if it helps people around her avoid pain, she gives in and tells a fib. Psychology teacher Timothy Dickmeyer said this type of lie is called a lie of protection and is common.
“The motivation for telling white, or subtle lies, varies along a spectrum just like the motivation for telling outright lies,” Dickmeyer said. “One might tell a white lie to avoid hurting a loved one’s feelings. Normativesocial influence, the tendency to adjust behavior to gain acceptance or avoid rejection, can also motivate one to lie.”
Williams believes fibbing to prevent hurt is the only time lying is excusable; most of the time, it is merely a deceitful way to get out of a hard situation and she hates it when people lie to her.
“I have a baby boy. He’s two years old, yet I’ve been cheated on and lied to by his dad, so of course I left” the child’s father, Williams said. “I’m trying to find someone who won’t lie to me. It’s hard because I keep thinking, ‘Oh my God, is he going to lie to me? Is he just going to do the same thing that my ex did? I don’t want my son to get hurt by lying. Plus I went through the lies [from my parents] when I was a child too so I’m trying to make sure it doesn’t happen to him like it did with me.”
Williams keeps her fibs minimal. She knows if she doesn’t, she will get in the habit of lying and eventually become deceitful to her family.
“When you lie and someone sees you, their first instinct is ‘They’re a liar. I’m going to avoid them.’ If you lie to your friends, you’re going to lie to your girlfriend, [and] you’re going to lie to your wife, and that’s going to go downhill,” Williams said. Lying “can affect your kids because you’ll start lying to your kids, and your own kids eventually won’t even know who they are or what their life is. It’s a big effect.”
Going beyond white lies
In her room, senior Jessica Rushing hears her mom calling her.
“Jessica! Have you done your homework?”
“Uhhh…” senior Jessica Rushing murmurs in response to her mom’s question. The truth is she hasn’t even looked at the homework her teacher assigned; her mom, though, doesn’t need to know this.
“Of course, Mom,” she fibs, seeing no wrong in the white lie.
A University of Massachusetts study found 60 percent of people lied on average in a 10 minute conversation. They told two to three lies in this time, which made researchers believe people tell small falsehoods often. Rushing believes these are a normal part of everyone’s life.
“When you tell your mom you did homework and you didn’t, that’s a little thing, but if you keep lying about it, that’s not good, and your relationship is not going to work out,” Rushing said. “Little white lies are OK, but when you start to get to serious things, like school or your personal life, that’s not okay. You shouldn’t be lying.”
Dickmeyer said a main reason for telling fibs – large or small – is to avoid an immediate unpleasant situation.
“This might play out in how you approach a teacher regarding a late assignment.  If you falsely construct a story based on personal hardships such as the sudden loss of a relative, you might receive leniency in the form of an extended time line,” Dickmeyer said. “Whereas if you stated, truthfully, that you spent all weekend playing Modern Warfare Three, you probably would not be granted any extended time.”
Rushing said a line exists between white lies and larger fibs that hurt someone. Everyone tells white lies, but some people tell so many fibs they fall into a lifestyle of deception.
When you tell your “first [big] lie, it gets easier to lie. The more you lie, the more likely you are to not be an honest person in general,” Rushing said. “You’re saying these things that you don’t mean, and you don’t even know that you don’t mean them.”
Dickmeyer compares a lifestyle of lying to students skipping class. It is detrimental in the long term to cut class, but it offers temporary rewards.
“I believe that we tend to behave in ways that are first, comfortable, and second, reinforced,” Dickmeyer said. “The result can be problematic when lying becomes habitual or compulsive.”
For this reason, Rushing tries to limit when she does not tell the truth, especially about large things.
“There aren’t many times where lying is all right, but I think when it comes to keeping your personal life out of the spotlight a small lie or two won’t hurt anyone,” Rushing said. “With a little common sense, a white lie really has no negative effects. Such a weapon should be wielded carefully, because it’s a weapon that could be easily turned against you.”

art by Kelly Brucks
Caught without his assignment, sophomore Riley Johnson can only stare up at his teacher and say in mock seriousness, “My dog ate my homework.”
The teacher sighs; Johnson bursts out laughing, amused at his latest lie.
Johnson’s telling of humorous fibs is a way of life. He loves being dishonest to make a situation funny. He will lie to his friends or even to his parents.
“One time I was at Taco Bell, and I told my mom I would get mild sauce, and I accidentally got her hot sauce,” Johnson said. “The thing was I told her I got her mild sauce and gave her the hot sauce. She was pissed off because I lied to her, but it was funny.”
He finds no fault in fibbing to entertain himself; Johnson is not alone in his lying lifestyle. On average, a man will lie approximately six times a day and a woman three times a day, according to a poll by 20th Century Fox. However, Dickmeyer said there can be negative effects from these fibs.
“The implications of compulsive lying might include loss of trust from parents, significant others, co-workers or supervisors, which in turn could have extreme consequences on one’s personal and professional life,” Dickmeyer said. “There are additional implications regarding one’s own self-concept.  As the author Nathaniel Hawthorn said, ‘No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one is true.’”  
Johnson said he tells falsehoods to his friends often because they believe his outrageous claims. He will fib about something as a joke, not expecting anyone to believe him.
“One time I told [sophomore] Maaz [Mohammad] that this soda was five bucks, and it was actually one dollar. I lie like that a lot, but I only do it to people who will believe it,” Johnson said. “I just lie a lot to be funny like that because it’s not like it really matters that much to tell the truth.”
Johnson often exaggerates when he tells stories, such as about the size of a fish he caught. Dickmeyer said lying by exaggerating is common according to research by English psychologist Richard Gramzow.
“Generally the act of exaggeration, [such as] telling others your GPA is higher than it actually is or that your weight is lower, is based on a motivation to make the deceiver feel better about themselves regardless of other’s opinions,” Dickmeyer said. “We tend to inflate ourselves for our own sake, not the acceptance or denial of others.  Gramzow calls this ‘intra-psychic lying’ rather than public or interpersonal lying.   He says that this type of self-inflation does not bear the same associated anxiety as a grandiose lie.”
Many lies Johnson tells, though, are just to entertain him; he sees no ill long term effects from telling fibs daily.
“I usually end up making friends [by lying], so I guess you could say that there are some good reasons to fib,” Johnson said. “These lies could make long-term friends as long as you just lie to be funny and not to be mean.”
By Kirsten Buchanan