February 2012

February 2012: A Line in the Sand - Lying

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

“Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!”

Remember that line from Ghostbusters? Funny stuff. I know it’s just a movie bit, but it does illustrate the point that certain questions have only one appropriate answer irrespective of whether or not that answer is true. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t condone lying in purely objective situations where there is an undeniable right and wrong. It is never okay to willingly and deliberately deceive or mislead another person in order to gain some advantage. It’s not okay. Not ever.

However, there are subjective circumstances where astute situational awareness dictates that, in the moment, the truth might hurt more than it helps. A time-honored example arose in the e-mail thread between Courtney and me (For some odd reason, we never speak to one another. Go figure.) as we settled on this topic.

She wrote: Is it ever okay to lie?

I replied: Does my butt look fat in these jeans? No, Baby! Of course not! Love that little caboose!

Ah, yes. That old conundrum so brilliantly depicted by Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln in the GEICO commercial. For the sake of the argument, let’s say the answer is yes. Guys, if you tell the truth, is there a scenario that ends well? Of course not. You just say no, because that’s the reason she’s asking in the first place—to hear you say no. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome, because while you’re at the party, some of her catty “friends” might say something that gets back to her. Then you’ve got a situation on your hands, and this is unfortunate. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but keep in mind that if you’d said yes at the front end, you probably wouldn’t have gotten out the door. All you can do is say no, tell her how cute she looks, give her a little pat on the behind as you head out the door and hope for the best.

Let me give you another much more serious example. Imagine a soldier wounded in combat; his buddies and the medic are trying to administer first aid in the field under enemy fire. The mission is to get the guy stabilized to the extent possible and get him off the front line to a place where he can get proper care for his wounds. In order for that to happen as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible, if he’s conscious, they have to keep him as calm, reassured and focused as they can. If the guy’s leg is 25 feet away and he has a hole in his gut the size of a dinner plate, what’s the medic supposed to say when he asks something like, “Am I gonna be okay, Doc?” or “How bad is it, Doc?” Does he tell him that his leg is history, but it won’t matter anyway because he’ll probably bleed out and die before he ever gets to the hospital? Or does he say something like, “Don’t worry, Joe. We’re gonna get you fixed up”? It may not be true, but under the circumstances…

Out of respect for those who have served in the military and seen combat, I should disclose that I’ve never served and have no illusions that I know what those people have experienced. I’m drawing from some of the more graphic accounts that I’ve read in history books about and by those who have been in combat situations.

One last thing: Kids, lying to your parents does not fall into that subjective category. Can’t do it. Period.

Bill Clinton did not have sexual relations with that woman. Pete Rose never bet on baseball. Richard Nixon was not a crook. I wear a size four. Lies. Lies. All of them lies.

There are a lot of famous lies floating around out there, and this leads us to the question of the month: do you believe that it is ever acceptable to lie?

I imagine that one’s answer to this question changes over time. When I was a sophomore in high school and told my mom I was going to play tennis with Sally Bukowski when I was really going somewhere with Eric Skoog, in his car, I thought lying was absolutely crucial at that moment. Heck, I didn’t want to be the nerd who had to admit that I wasn’t allowed to get in other kid’s cars. I, of course, got caught, and was then grounded for all of spring break. Lie. Get grounded. Repeat. That was my basic high school cycle.

My parents were strict, so I leaned toward omitting key details and downright lying to get my way, and as such, I spent a lot of time in my room. Some of that time in said room was spent without a door. I was also a little mouthy (go ahead, feign surprise), and rather than listen to me yell and slam my door, my Dad just removed the door. “Yell all you want, Cour …” (Important to note, that this behavior paved the way for my sister to sail through adolescence, as she was a quick study.)

Perhaps it isn’t until you are lied to that you realize the havoc that such behavior can wreak. So, after a string of lying boyfriends and spouses, I don’t lie. In fact, I am oftentimes brutally honest, which can also get you in trouble. But I’ll take honest trouble any day.

In this job alone, everything that goes to print with my name on it has to be the truth. There is a paper trail for everything I say. That’s powerful stuff. Do you recall when writer James Frey’s best-selling-smash-hit “memoir” was found to be utter untruthfulness? Frey fictionalized his past to sell more books. And it worked. Right up until he got caught. Talk about a memoir-able moment.

I say, if ever we are going to tout the truth, it should at least be during the month of February. After all, the honorees of President’s Month both have an historical affinity for telling the truth. George Washington could not tell a lie. After his father discovered a dead cherry tree that had been barked and demanded to know who killed the prized flora, a six year old George stepped up to the plate and admitted that he was the culprit.

Abe Lincoln garnered the nickname “Honest Abe” during his time managing his country store. When realizing that he accidently returned the wrong change, he trekked a long way to make good on his mistake. In another incident, he realized he had an extra weight on the scale, thereby short changing someone on his goods. He found that customer, too. Lincoln was clearly no mathematician, but he was honest to a fault.

I think what many people don’t realize is that one “innocent” lie, spawns a dozen more not so innocent lies. Why get yourself into that kind of trouble? Make it easy on yourself. Repeat after me: Yes, your ass does look big in those jeans. Yes, your boyfriend is cheating on you. Yes, you did get the short end of the smart stick. Yes, you’ll always have a dead-end job. Yes, your daughter does look like the mailman.

Sleep easy, my friends. After all, wasn’t the southern phrase “bless your heart” invented specifically to soften the blow of ruthless rectitude? Go ahead and try it. Add “bless your heart” to the end of any of the aforementioned truths. See, honesty has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

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