Liar Liar, Pants on Fire

I find the amount people in this world that lie without even having to think about it to be absolutely astonishing.  And disturbing.  When I tell a lie – even a little one – I agonize over it for days.  I told a lie a few days ago and still cannot get over it; not becau.se I feel bad for the person or the consequence of the lie, but just that I truly believe lying is an awful thing to do.  There are quite a few ways a person can lie, but in all of them the only thing really going on is that the liar could care less about the person they are lying to.  Here’s why:

The first, most obvious, case of lying, is simply that the person telling the lie is says one thing while thinking something else.  I’m sure a lot of people would argue that a “little white lie” is okay, particularly when they are worried they will hurt the other person’s feelings.  A woman asks her husband:  “does this dress make my ass look like the size of Texas?”  Of course, the husband responds “no, honey … you look beautiful” while thinking it actually looks like Texas and New Mexico combined.  No harm, no foul right?  Except for the fact that the woman may be on her way to a job interview, or out to her ten year high school reunion.  By telling a lie to preserve his wife’s feelings, the husband could be potentially making a fool of his wife.

In this first case of lying as well, there is the malicious lie:  the lie that is told merely for the sake of intentionally deceiving another for the sake of the liar’s personal gain.  No matter how minor the offense (e.g. lying about taking a cookie for the sake of not getting in trouble), or major the issue at hand (e.g. lying about committing a crime), the intentional deceit of another is not to be taken lightly.  In the DSM-IV, this type of lying is listed in a myriad of mental illnesses, from narcissistic personality disorder to psychopathy, to even bipolar disorder.  A person that lies like this on a regular basis is always questionable in character.

The second case of lying is in omission, or rather leaving out information for the purpose of deceiving another.  It seems that so many people live by the adage “what they don’t know won’t hurt them;” however, again we are confronted with the same problem as in the first case of lying.  Who is to judge what information will or will not hurt a person?  As autonomous human beings in an extremely relativistic world, we are really the only ones who can judge for ourselves what is good and bad.

Now while I am sure there are plenty of cases in which information omitted has not harmed anyone, there are probably an equal number of cases where it has.  I can name off the top of my head a whole host of times in my own experiences that information left out has at the very least made life more difficult, at the most ruined entire relationships.

The final case of lying is when someone lies to themselves.  This is probably the most atrocious case of lying, for in lying to oneself you in essence double-lie.  This case of lying is probably the least damnable, for it is more a matter of the liar’s inability to accept reality; nonetheless, it is wrong.

The thing about lying is that if a person proves themselves to do it, and to do it frequently, there is absolutely no basis on which to trust them.  I can tell you that there are a lot of people I know that lie through their teeth, almost easier than they breath (and you know who you are).  Every time I catch one of their repetitive and often nonsensical lies, I trust them less and less.

From my days as a graduate student in philosophy, I am still plagued with the ramblings of Immanuel Kant – an 18th century philosopher who wrote with such verbosity my eyes bleed at the mere thought of ever reading him again.  The one thing I took to heart from Kant was that you should live your moral life according to the maxim (and I am paraphrasing):  act in a way that you would prefer others to act towards you.  In other words, that “do unto others” Golden Rule that seems to work the best when applied to most of life’s moral dilemmas.  To me, I want people to trust me and my word, just as I want to be told the truth at all costs.  So the old joke is “I Kant tell a lie,” or really I just cannot bring myself to lie without moral reserve because I know that if it were me on the other end, I would want to know the truth.

Is that true?

Just this week, I have had the great fortune of adding another pet peeve to my master list of peeves, a list that seems to be ever-growing by the day.  The top peeves, of course, are matters of grammar.  You all, faithful blog followers, know that I cannot stand text lingo (wat up wit u lol); just as you know I have come close to completely melting down over the use of fake words like ‘good’er’ and ‘funner.’  And we all remember that post long ago and far away on Art is of Words when I had the equivalent of a digital aneurysm over the new trend in putting spaces between an exclamatory sentence and its exclamation point(s) (OMG I am sooooo excited !!!).

But I have other pet peeves besides grammar and punctuation.  The grocery store lady is one of them; another, still, is when people take too long to return a text message, or worse – ignore it.  But some of these are lower on the list, because yes, lovely readers, I do prioritize my list by just how annoying the particular peeve in question is.  Well, I have added a new one and it’s a doozy, so it’ll be ranking pretty high up there with the exclamations and the OMGs.

At dinner a few nights ago, I was confronted with a situation that I realized I have been confronted with quite a few times in the past, without realizing it of course.  We were at dinner with a group of my husband’s family and friends, and every time I said something, one person in particular felt that it was necessary to verify what I said with either my husband or someone else in their “circle.”  I said something about the Internet, and this person said to my husband “is that true?”  I said something about a mutual friend we all had, and this person said to one of the other friends “is that true?”  I think it happened three times during the course of the evening that night, and upon thinking about it more realized that I am second-guessed to death every single time we are around this person in particular.

This made me think for a while – am I seen as a liar?  Do people see me as not a trustworthy source of information, even over mundane things?  Were other people being second-guessed as well?  I felt so second-guessed after this particular dinner that I began to second-guess myself, so asked around.  To my surprise (and relief), I found that a lot of my friends encounter people like this – people that have to verify everything that you say in front of you with someone they trust more, even on the most minor of issues.  An old high school friend of mine told me she has a co-worker that is constantly second-guessing everyone in the office; one of my friends even said that he broke up with a girlfriend of eight months because the girl’s dad did it so often.  So what’s the deal?

After even further second-guessing, I realized that I could not – for the life of me – figure out why people do this.  Why they have to “is that true?” someone they may have known for years, decades even, is completely unreasonable to me.  Not only does it just not make sense, because generally you associate with people you believe and trust, but it is just so rude.  Second-guessing someone you consider more than just an acquaintance – be it a co-worker, friend, or relative – is like turning to a nurse and asking if the doctor is right in saying you have bronchitis.  It’s illogical, rude, inconsiderate, and really says more than it is probably even intended to.  But then, I can’t figure it out.  Is it that these people have trust issues?  Or is it more deeply rooted, sort of like a subconscious need to establish just whose side you are on, even for information?

As with most questions I ask myself, I still have no answer for this one.  Perhaps that is why it ranks so high up on my master list of pet peeves:  the very fact that it happens is bad enough, but not knowing why is enough to make that funky blue vein pop out of my forehead.  To that person that always, inevitably, does this – the person at my family and friend dinner, the person at my friend’s office, my friend’s ex-girlfriend’s dad, and all you other second-guessers out there – we have all updated our lists accordingly.  And let me tell you, once you’ve reached the status of an entry on the pet peeve list, you hear about it.