“Liar, liar, pants on fire” goes the childhood chant—and, oh, how many of us truth stretchers there actually are. And while most of us don’t get called on the carpet for it, Brian Williams was not so lucky. The popular NBC news anchor captured relentless media attention, and, in the end, was forced to fall on his sword, so to speak, as he followed one lie with another.
Meanwhile, Judicial Watch recently uncovered U.S. State Department documents revealing that aides to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “knew from the outset that the Benghazi mission compound was under attack by armed assailants tied to a terrorist group.” About that incident, though, she once said, “What difference does it make?”
And who can forget her saying that she “misspoke” and showed she’s human when recalling her landing in Bosnia as First Lady. Her spin: She and daughter Chelsea were greeted by sniper fire, when in truth she was handed a poem by 8-year-old Emina Bicakcic.
The upshot: Williams received a six-month suspension without pay and has no credibility left. Clinton, on the other hand, may be the next president of the United States. Does the word Teflon come to mind?
At the same time, writes Michael Smerconish, “We all lie. I’ll give Mother Teresa a pass, but that’s it. Everyone else lies, and often our lies are self-aggrandizing; we’re just trying to be better than we are.”
So, yes, lies abound, but some simply matter more.
For instance, if I tell you that it’s good to see you when it’s not, no harm done. Same if I say I already have plans instead of flat out refusing your invite. And if my kid says he flushed the toilet, but didn’t, no big deal. So-called white lies rarely have dire consequences.
Not so the other kind, the big, bad ones. Take the one recently revealed by David Axelrod, Obama’s confidante and advisor. In his new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics, we learn that the President pretended to be opposed to gay marriage in the 2008 election. Could that have swayed some voters?
Unfortunately, that’s only one in a string of documented presidential untruths. Will we ever forget the one that goes, “If you like the health care plan you have, you can keep it.”
Obama, of course, is not the only truth-stretching office holder. As the saying goes, “How can you tell a politician is lying? His lips are moving.”
True or not, as already noted, the rest of us are at it, too–and we all get started early on. In fact, says researcher and professor of pediatrics and psychiatry Dr. Michael Lewis, “About 70% of kids are already lying by the age of 2 or 2-1/2. And by age 6, almost 100% are lying.”
And that fact goes a long way in explaining why so many parents—86% of us–are told lies. ByReputation.com’s CEO Brandon Gaille has also found that 75% of friends lie to each other, followed by 72% of siblings, and 69% of spouses. He also reports that, “Most people lie an average of four times a day, which equates to 1,460 lies every year.”
Yikes! You can almost feel your nose growing!
So, does that explain the 40% of resumes that are padded with untruths? Or how about the 90% of folks who reportedly misrepresent themselves on dating sites? On those, apparently, women are apt to say they weigh 8-1/2 pounds less than we actually do, while men likely say they’re taller, richer, and/or better educated than they really are.
And making ourselves look better or manipulating others for our own gain aren’t the only reasons we lie. We also resort to untruths in order to:
• Shift blame
• Avoid confrontation
• Get one’s way
• Be nice
• Make ourselves feel better
But how can we tell if someone is being untruthful? Dr. Leanne ten Brinke, a forensic psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests these tell-tale signs:
1. “They change their head position quickly.
2. Their breathing changes.
3. They stand very still.
4. They repeat words or phrases.
5. They provide too much information.
6. They touch or cover their mouth.
7. They instinctively cover vulnerable body parts.
8. They shuffle their feet.
9. It becomes difficult for them to speak.
10. They stare at you without blinking much.
11. They tend to point a lot.”
Bottom line: Think twice before bending the truth. As philosopher Friedrich Nietzche once noted, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
And that goes for the mightiest amongst us, too.