Friday, February 05, 2010

Big Fat Liar

(News-Herald, February 4) “Do you think I actually believe you?”
It’s one of those sentences that once in a while you find yourself wishing you could say to a certain someone.
It is one of the great curses of life in our day and age—lying directly to a person’s face has become commonplace, unremarkable, something as easily done as a handshake and a smile. But calling someone a liar is still rude.
Occasionally, the lie doesn’t reveal itself until later. We smack ourselves on the forehead and think, “Well, dang! He got me!” But I think it has actually become more common to meet people whose lies are evident the moment they open their mouths.
There was a time when a lie was teamed up with deceit, as in, “Gadzooks, man, but I am tired of your lies and deceit.” But deceit is retired, cooling its heels on the bench, because we aren’t even deceived all that often. The only person who is deceived is the liar himself, who imagines that because his audience did not actually laugh in his face, his lie must have been mistaken for the truth.
I believe the world would be a better place if we told the truth. I wonder if it might help is we also called people on their baloney. After all, it’s simple politeness to let someone know that he has spinach in his teeth or his necktie on the outside of his collar. So couldn’t we arrive at a place where it would be considered polite to say, “Excuse me, but I think a big fat lie just came out of your mouth” or even “I realize you are still talking, but I thought I should tell you that I don’t believe a single word you’re saying.”
Okay, probably not.
Rudeness aside, most spewers of colorful untruths would consider that an invitation to pile more implausible bricks of detail on top of the shaky straw foundation they have already laid. Liars often believe that if they wear down your brain to a nub of sheer exhaustion, you have to believe them. If you tell him his deal is too unbelievable to be true, he’ll just sell it harder.
Also, these spinners of improbable yarns are often in positions of power, and you can’t afford to annoy them.
So when the boss is claiming that “employees are our greatest asset” or “we really value your input” or “this restructuring will allow us to better serve the needs of customers,” employees smile cheerfully and nod because employees who want to keep their jobs don’t call the manager a liar to his face. And if we’re being honest, there are times when we are grateful we don’t have to face the ugly truth. A business projection based on fantasy can be more comforting than staring disaster in the face.
Those of us deal with bureaucracy often become resigned to the currency of uncalled lies. The state calls a meeting to go over some new policy, and not a person in the entire room believes what’s being said—not even the people saying it. Why point out that we’re knee deep in fertilizer; everyone already knows this deal is not for real.
Unchallenged lies have a real cost. In Mao’s China, an initiative to turn agricultural economy to industrial was clearly ridiculous. Nobody dared speak up. Once implemented, it was clearly not working, but nobody dared speak up. On paper China had abundant surplus food; in real life, millions starved to death. Selling the big line of obvious hooey has consequences down the line.
Why does he do it? He wants to feel important and powerful. He likes the way people show him gratitude when he promises something he can’t deliver. He is so focused on himself that he’s not paying that much attention to his audience; he doesn’t see the eye rolls and the smirks. And the rush that he gets from telling his story is so great that he never really thinks about the future fallout. And when that fallout comes, he’s not there.
Stay silent or speak up; either way you pay a price. When this person shows up, he may offer you a cheap deal or a real deal or and unbelievable deal. The one thing that’s certain is that in the end, there will be a big cost and when you finally see the bill, you’ll be seeing the real deal.

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