Little Satis and I watched Liar Liar the other night, which he enjoyed immensely, despite the rather numerous sexual references that I had forgotten about. The film’s life lesson (that lying hurts people, but we do it anyway) was probably lost a little on him, but it brought home to me one of the key difficulties we’re having at the moment with him.
You see, like Jim Carrey, I am a liar.
Perhaps not quite as devastatingly as Fletcher Reede, but the fact is that I lie, sometimes when I should, and more often when I shouldn’t. And the problem is, Little Satis is now a liar as well. He lies as much as I do (if not more), and it’s become quite a difficult problem at home.
When I say ‘liar’, of course, I don’t mean a pathological, compulsive liar who can’t help themselves; that’s my mother. One time as a teenager when I was supposed to have moved a mattress up into the loft, my mother told my father upon my not having done it that I had tried, but it didn’t fit. In front of me. There was no reason for the lie – certainly not to protect me – but it came out all the same. Like good old Fletcher, it was a lie for the sake of a lie. No, for me lying is more of a situational thing – done when called for. Even if it’s the wrong thing to do (of course).
The number one, primary reason I lie is to avoid conflict. I hate conflict; it makes my gut churn.
My concern is this: at the moment, I can tell when Little Satis is lying. I can tell without difficulty, because he hasn’t mastered his body language, the tone of his voice, and certainly hasn’t learned to clean up the evidence. The other night I came home from work to find an empty cracker packet next to the computer and crumbs on the keyboard. I asked him if he had eaten crackers whilst on the computer, and he naturally answered, “No.” Think twice, kid. However, there will come a time when I won’t be able to tell when he’s lying. He’s only going to get better at it. At that’s a time I dread, because the harmless lies could turn into much more damaging ones. “Was that a person or a deer you hit on the way home?” – “A deer, dad – obviously.”
The problem is that Little Satis sees me get away with lies, and as long as he does, he’s going to believe that, despite everything we tell him, lying is an okay thing to do. I need to be able to stop lying, and for that, I’m going to need some help. That’s why I’m writing this: this is for you, Mrs. Satis, to help me stop lying. I want you to know why I lie, and how I lie, so that I can’t get away with it anymore. Perhaps if I can stop soon, it might not be too late for Little Satis. And of course, you’ll know better when he’s lying as well.
The first thing you need to know is why I lie. The number one, primary reason I lie is to avoid conflict. I hate conflict; it makes my gut churn. The moment I see the possibility of you getting angry, frustrated or annoyed with me, my mind starts racing to think of ways to stave off your ire. Now this isn’t necessarily going to be by lying; it could be deflection, half-truths, changes of subject…I might become royally angry to try and bully you into dropping the subject. None of those things are acceptable, of course, but I just want you to understand what’s going through my mind.
A second reason I lie is to avoid thought. Most of the time, I don’t particularly like thinking about things. Lately it’s been worse, as I’ve been going through a phase of worse-than-usual depression (I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not; probably), and anything that involves too much thought is simply overwhelming to me. It’s a classic example of choosing the path of least resistance: it’s easier to think up some answer to your question than to actually put any real thought into the truth.
I am far from a perfect person, as you well know. I’m lazy, I’m depressed, I’m inconsiderate and selfish. This is probably the biggest cause behind my lying, because all of these things are deeply integrated into the two points I’ve just mentioned: conflict and thought. These very characteristics cause conflict between us, and my very nature is to avoid thought as much as possible.
But more important than understanding why I lie is understanding how. My hope is that, in knowing this, you’ll be better able to catch me out. The most important thing is context. If there’s anything that would immediately give away the lie, then it doesn’t happen. In a snapshot instant, I assess the situation and determine the consequences of telling the truth and lying. This includes what the thing is I want to lie about, who I’m lying to, and the plausibility of bending the truth. Believe it or not, even the long-term consequences of lying are considered; if the lie would cause more damage down the line, I’d rather stick to the truth.
Then comes the lie itself. Typically, half-truths are better than outright lies; they’re easier to believe. This is important, because it’s not just you I have to convince – it’s me, too. If I don’t believe the lie, no one else will either. That’s really the key component: I actually try to convince myself of the lie’s veracity. That helps control tone of voice, and allows me to convincingly argue the point if it comes to contention.
Follow-through is important, too – usually toning the lie down with a truth that is less damaging (to myself). This all simple increases the plausibility of the lie.
And that’s very much it: why I lie, how I lie, and why it’s important to me that I stop. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy – after all, I have a lifetime of lies to give up – but for the benefit of raising Little Satis, it’s something that I want to try. And besides – if I’m going to get in trouble, I might as well get in trouble for the truth, rather than a lie.
Featured image from http://yify-torrents.com/movie/Liar_Liar_1997.