It happens this way …
Rarely does a book so captivate me that I stay up late and get up early to finish it. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarity was one. I knew the title from the award-winning HBO mini-series starring Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, and Reece Witherspoon, and I wanted to read the book before I saw the TV version.
That turned out to be a good strategy because, when we finally got Season One from the library, it would have been a challenge to follow all the characters and their relationships without the text. As we watched this almost spot-on transformation of book to TV, I was better able to track and untangle the tangled web of lies these characters wove.
This post is not meant to be a spoiler alert, but a springboard into the issue of why people lie. I would be a liar if I didn’t acknowledge I’ve done it innumerable times. One of my earliest memories of this behavior happened in kindergarten. Sister Geraldine had set down the rule that we five-year-olds were not allowed to erase as we practiced forming our ABCs. I’d like to think there was a good pedagogical reason behind her dictate, but it made no sense at the time.
When she walked up and down the aisles checking our work, she stopped at my desk, saw my eraser-smudged paper, and chided me for breaking her rule.
That day I would rather have been sent to the principal’s office or the guillotine than admit what I had done. So I denied, denied, denied until the good Sister gave up. Why did I do that? I have no idea what was in that five-year-old’s mind, but I can only guess it had something to do with trying to cover up the fact that I made mistakes – perhaps I was already a perfectionist-in -the-making? – and was caught in the process.
In his June 2017 National Geographic article, “Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways,” Yudhijit Bhattacharjee posits:
Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at. We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends, and loved ones. Our capacity for dishonesty is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others, which ironically makes us terrible at detecting lies. Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.
After citing his own foray into lying as a third-grader, Bhattacharjee explains:
Like learning to walk and talk, lying is something of a developmental milestone. While parents often find their children’s lies troubling—for they signal the beginning of a loss of innocence—Kang Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, sees the emergence of the behavior in toddlers as a reassuring sign that their cognitive growth is on track.
Double whoa! I guess I was cognitively on track in kindergarten!
Here’s a challenge I’m posing to myself this week: How many times will I fudge the truth to be polite (“Oh, I love your new haircut”)? How many times will I try to maintain a façade of perfectionism (“No, it wasn’t me who left the back slider open!”)? How many times will I try to protect my self-esteem (“I really didn’t want to be in that journal anyway!”)? Not that there’s any thing wrong with any of these motivations – they are human and lightweight – but it will be interesting to see when/where/how I digress from deep-down truth.
PS: I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit I thought Shakespeare had written, “Oh! What a tangled web we weave/ when first we practice to deceive.” The truth? These words belong to Sir Walter Scott in his poem, “Marmion.” There. I feel better now.