Thoughtful Thursday: Liar

December 29, 2011

Thoughtful ThursdayAside from my years of duplicity trying to hide infertility, I am scrupulously honest. That’s just who I am. Sometimes it requires some creativity to be totally honest but still say something someone wants to hear. If asked about someone’s new dress that doesn’t flatter her, I might say, “That’s a great color,” or “It coordinates so perfectly with that gorgeous necklace.” That also means that if I say something, you can believe it. Unlike most people, I don’t even like to tell white lies to toddlers; rather than saying that we don’t have any cookies, I come up with truths like “we don’t eat cookies at breakfast” or “we are not eating any cookies today.” DH and I are so opposed to lying to our children that they will never experience Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or any other magical creations. Of course, the Judaism thing also takes Santa and the Easter bunny out of the equation, which is actually very convenient: a Christmas-celebrating family who refuses to acknowledge Santa is going to get a lot of pressure from all sides. “Burrito and Tamale are Jewish” gets us off the hook pretty easily.

A coworker of mine says that he is honest all the time not for moral reasons but because he has a bad memory. If he were to lie, he’d have to keep track of who knew what. So, he stays honest.

One of my sisters-in-law, Murphy’s mother, only lies when it comes to compliments. Do you really look great? Is she actually happy for you? You’ll never know, because she says the same things, in the same over-the-top syrupy voice, no matter what. It has served her well at times, such as when she worked the front desk at a day spa and told the customers how fabulous their skin looked after their facials. Some people see through it, though — like my mother, who once remarked that DH’s sister was “a little too nice” and “kind of fake.”

The flip side of the easy compliments, though, is that DH’s sister expects them from other people. Last week she flat-out asked me whether a parenting choice she had made with Murphy would be bad for him long-term. She is currently very unhappy with the results of her actions and she desperately wants her baby to stop doing what he’s doing, and I don’t foresee what she’s doing turning out well. So, I told her that. I was matter-of-fact but truthful. I wasn’t harsh, but I didn’t soften it. I would never have said anything about it at all, except that she specifically asked me. But, even though she asked, I don’t think she expected me to tell her the truth. Although we email each other often, I haven’t heard a peep from her in over a week since I told her the truth.

DH’s buddy Mr. OH is such a fibber. I never realized the extent until we went on a road trip with him a few years ago. He made all sorts of personal and business calls on his bluetooth while he drove, and to every single person he lied about something. He is pretty convincing when he lies because he is kind of sleazy whether he’s lying or telling the truth. Usually it was something unimportant which would never come up again. Sometimes the lie did benefit him, which I don’t agree with but I can understand, but usually the lie did not benefit him at all. The most bothersome to me was when he lied to his wife, who had stayed home; it was a pointless lie which didn’t benefit him and wouldn’t hurt him. If you’re going to lie to your spouse to protect their feelings, or because you’re having an affair, or whatever, fine, I get it. But lying for no reason, just for the sake of lying? Bizarre.

Which brings us to our current nanny. I posted a couple of months ago about the tremendous tolerance I have shown for her lies, some of which she has been caught in and some of which I have detected without letting her know. In most cases, I wouldn’t have had any objection to the truth; in almost all cases, I would have been willing to go along with it or work something out if she’d just asked. A few weeks ago, I discovered a lie that was particularly annoying. She took my car to the supermarket while Burrito and Tamale were napping to stock up our groceries, which she does several times a week. The market is about a mile away. She came back 2.5 hours later, long after they had woken up from their nap. She had a convoluted story about getting pulled over by a cop and having him lecture her about her driving for an hour. Even if that were true, it doesn’t explain the huge block of missing time. Because she’d taken so long, I couldn’t run an errand I’d scheduled to pick up my finished pottery, nor could I go to my office. That night, on the dashboard I found a parking meter slip from a town 20 minutes away — 5 minutes away from my pottery studio. If she had just asked me, I would have driven her and dropped her off to do whatever she was doing (more on what that was next week) while I did what I’d planned to do; an extra-long, with-my-compliments lunch hour. But she didn’t ask, so I sat around the house for 2 hours waiting for her to come back. But, the part that annoyed me the most: she didn’t even cover her tracks and remove the parking meter slip. She is never very detail-oriented, and it obviously slipped her mind to remove the incriminating evidence. If you’re going to lie, at least be good at it.

When do you lie? When do you tell hard truths? Why do you tell the truth — because you should, or because you aren’t good at lying (can’t remember, can’t be convincing, can’t cover your tracks…)?

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14 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Liar”

  1. celia Says:

    I have a learning disability, so I try never to lie because I can’t remember what I said. I try to always be honest with our son, when I was a nanny I was very honest with my little girl and it paid off in complete trust. I could tell her something would hurt but only a little and she would be fine with getting a splinter pulled or whatever. Once it bit me in the butt because her great grandma died and she asked me if I was going to die and I told her someday I would. Her parents told her they would never die for a long long time. She asked me again the next day and I asked her if I had ever lied to her. Then I told her we were not going to discuss it anymore. Which was hard for me, but she did grasp my point. Which was important to me, and I think also to her. The only other time I disagreed with her parents was when they told her only bad people went to jail. But it was my job to back them up, not undermine them so I just said nothing. I am pretty ambivalent about religion AND Santa. My Dad solved the Santa dilemma( he is completely irreligious) by saying that Santa was the part of everyone that found joy in giving to others. So I suppose I will say something along those lines. I am pretty sure it will be a moot point since my son is already very like his dad and will probably turn an analytical mind to both Santa and religion and dismiss both.

    I would NOT tolerate dishonesty in an employee, you have given that nanny enough chances. I would kick her to the curb. Plus if you do if before NYE it should make it nice and neat for your taxes next year. Right?

  2. a Says:

    I lie a little, in an effort to avoid conflict. I tell my daughter some tall tales, but she usually knows they’re tall tales. For the most part, I would rather people not ask me uncomfortable questions. I will try to politely avoid the question, but if pressed, I will give the blunt, honest answer that is my undiluted response. So I have a reputation for honesty. And, I have learned in my lifetime that honesty is not a well-valued personality trait. On the plus side, people usually know how I feel about most things.

    On a related, but different note, my in-laws can never address an issue directly. They will talk around something forever, until I want to smack them and tell them to just say what they mean or what they want. I guess that’s why I tell the truth as much as possible – I am impatient with those who cannot address things directly and liars seem to fall into that category.

    I do perpetuate the Santa myth, but here’s what I get to deal with: Last year, a skeptical 4 year old got out of bed and saw all the presents and said “Santa came!” Then she turned and looked at me and said “or did YOU do this?” This year, because I am too lazy to put stuff in my own stocking, while filling hers and my husband’s, she was very concerned that Santa did not put anything in my stocking. I tried to steer her away from the topic, because I knew where it was going, but she eventually got there. “Mommy, do you think you didn’t get anything in your stocking because Santa thinks you were not good this year?”

    Finally, you know what phrase currently bothers me more than anything? When people say “I’m not gonna lie…” Oh really? Are you gonna lie the rest of the time? Should I believe anything you say? Aaaarrrgh!

  3. St. Elsewhere Says:

    I do lie. Usually, if it will save my a$$ and it won’t hurt. Or when the other person won’t have any other explanation…

    But I prefer to be truthful when it is what the other person really should be getting. Also, I kind of hardlined at my niece recently, and I told her the straight thing – that I won’t be handing over the phone to her. And my hubby thought I should have done/said something else. Simply put, I did not see why the no should not have been delivered just as a no. Her tantrums and whining did not do much for me. Also, it is better that the other person knows the truth.

    The one advantage of telling the truth is that one doesn’t have to remember what one said…it was what it was. I think I can be persuasive if I want to, but I hate the feeling of being caught with a lie, so truth it is.

    Oh, and I think there is a difference between lying, telling the truth, and telling it tactfully.

  4. Ana Says:

    Fascinating topic. First of all, your nanny. Just reading about this behavior makes me worried about her competency as a caretaker to your precious children. You have given her so so many chances….

    Like you, I do not lie to my kid because I want him to trust me and feel he can come to me for the truth no matter what. If he wants crackers for breakfast I do not say “we don’t have any”. I say “its breakfast time, you need to eat pancakes & eggs. You can have crackers at snack time”–I think its important for him to learn that he can’t have everything he wants, and as he gets older I’ll explain more of the “Whys”. But my MIL likes to tell these little lies “oh look, a squirrel” she’ll say, to distract him, even when there is no squirrel. Or “the dog ate your crackers”. Weird and unnecessary, in my mind. We aren’t going to do Santa or the Easter Bunny either, because my husband is adamantly against them, and I am ambivalent (I like the idea of fantasy & wonder, but the outright lying needed to perpetuate the myth is hard to reconcile).

    I do lie, though. Quite a bit. Definitely to my parents, so they do not worry but also to avoid disapproval (some things never change!). To my MIL because she is crazy and you can’t reason with crazy.

    I don’t EVER lie about my work or to my supervisors. Because it is wrong and incredibly serious in my field. Rarely do I lie to friends and even rarer to my husband. Because these are relationships I have CHOSEN to build, and are pretty much worthless if I can’t be honest with them (vs. parents/in-laws—where you have no choice & just need to get through your interactions with minimal stress). Though with my husband their may be some lies of omission (i.e. he doesn’t yet know I have a blog; though if he asked, I’d tell him). White lies—I don’t usually bother with, either. There is usually a way to be truthful and kind at the same time, like you described. If someone asks me for my opinion outright, I’ll answer honestly; otherwise I can pretend to be approving, even if I’m not.

  5. Sara Says:

    I used to have a problem as a kid lying about chores (dusting my room, brushing my teeth, etc.), because I found them so mindnumbingly boring it was worth the consequences of being caught lying to risk the chance that I wouldn’t be caught and then I wouldn’t have to have done the chore.

    I’d like to say I’ve grown out of it, but still, tooth-brushing is just SO boring that often when my husband asks if I’ve done it, I’ll often feign sleep.

  6. Tara (TIMO) Says:

    I tell white lies. Probably more often than I should. My husband usually catches me in the act so I need to be better about being honest.

    We do the Santa thing and try to keep it as “everyone should be good all year round”. We also try to phrase things as others have given examples rather than an all out white lie

  7. strongblonde Says:

    Oh man!! I don’t lie. I’m the worst liar ever. One of my sisters and my MIL lie all of the time. And I hate it!! The funny thing is that they both totally lie about medical things. Uhm…don’t you know you’re gonna get caught in that with me? Yeah, every single time!! I think its disrespectful. Also…if you lie about silly stuff, what’s to say that you don’t lie about everything?

  8. kitche rose Says:

    honesty is the best policy

  9. Elana Kahn Says:

    It totally depends on the situation…that’s what determines whether or not I’m going to tell a “little white lie”. Usually I’m brutally honest, but if I think I’m going to cause someone to get viciously angry then I’ll keep my mouth shut and/or fib. I’m a coward, I know. 🙂


  10. There was an Ally McBeal episode awhile back (before kids) that really impacted me. It was about the Santa issue, and why we sanctify lying to children in some cases. It was as amusing court case, balancing the need for magic with the need for truth, and as a result I come down on the side of truth. We talked about Santa when the kids were really little (how can you avoid it?) but as soon as they were old enough to ask questions (and this includes the tooth fairy), we were truthful.

    I think I’m pretty honest. One thing I’ve come to believe is that sometimes I lie to myself without even knowing it.

    A small example: yesterday I went to a yoga class with my sister. I almost told her that her practice was a beautiful practice (which it was; this would have been a true statement). But the REASON I was going to say that was that I wanted HER to tell ME that MY practice was beautiful. My compliment was not a heartfelt compliment, but one rooted in my own needs. So once I realized that, I was able to more consciously comment on a certain pose that she did. And release my need.

    Another truthy point: I see with my own kids that sometimes they aren’t lying when they don’t tell the truth — they are merely seeing the world the way they WANT it to be instead of the way it IS. Example: Daughter will tell Son that I’m taking them to a movie, even though we haven’t even talked about it. In her mind, it’s quite likely the truth, even though in my mind it’s not.

    Remember when the Jim Carrie movie, “Liar Liar” came out? At that time I tried to go a whole day telling only the truth. I found that so hard because so many things cannot be classified as truth or lie! Try it sometime.

    This has gotten too long. Your nanny is a piece of work. She reminds me of me at that age, so there is hope for her.

  11. Cat Says:

    I also avoided telling the truth about us trying to get pregnant. If someone flat out asked me if we were trying, I said we were – luckily only my couple closest friends actually asked and I would have told each of them eventually anyway. We are also fostering the belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the tooth fairy. I think it’s a nice childhood tradition and there’s too little magic in the world and they grow up too fast anyway.

    Aside from all that, I tell the truth, particularly when I’m asked something point blank. Your tactic of finding something nice to say while sort of answering the question is pretty much what I do, too. My good friends know that I’ll really tell them what I think when/if they want me to.

    I would be very irritated by your nanny’s stunt. We’re facing a situation with our occasional babysitter. We suspect her of something that will lead to our firing her, but we need some proof first. I’m dreading scheduling her again because then I’ll have to be a real grown-up and confront her about it.


  12. Usually when it comes to giving (professional) feedback, I will tell the truth. If I like and/or have to work on a regular basis with the person, I will do it tactfully, if I don’t like the person and I don’t have to work with them again (and the feedback is negative), I will say so in the most blunt way possible. A good example of this is someone I knew from a student orchestra asked me to review some recordings he made (I was studying classical music recording at the time, he did it as a hobby). I used a review sheet we used in class. The recordings were pretty bad, I sent him back my review sheets. Never heard from him again (what a relief!). Yes, I can be mean like that.

    Unfortunately, I also lie. And mostly to my DH. Or maybe it’s more a withholding of information that I think he will not like/get mad about (which can range from innocent things like mentioning a lower price of something I bought because I think he will find it ridiculous I bought something so expensive or something more complex about family relations). But in the end the result is always worse, because when he does find out, he accuses me of lying/not being honest, and I will feel so completely low (and promise myself I will never do it again, but I somehow can’t always keep that promise). I really have to work on this, because it’s not healthy.

  13. Elizabeth Says:

    I rarely lie, but when I do I’m very good at it. It’s usually to my husband, about money or time that I don’t want to be accountable for, which is not really very healthy, is it? Hm. He, on the other hand, is a terribly liar and I always know when he’s lying.

    With the kids, I usually avoid even the “soft” lies – they make things easier in the short-term but harder in the long term. My parents never supported the Santa thing (they’re pretty hard-core evangelical Christians) so it hasn’t even been on my radar with my kids.

    I do sympathize with your situation with the nanny. Confrontation is hard, finding new child care is even harder. I see you’re moving though so in a way that gives you an out… what will you do in terms of a letter of reference for her? What will you tell potential employers who call you and ask you about her? I’m just curious because I had a similar situation a couple years ago.


  14. Um, I try not to lie, but like most writers I’m guilty to telling the “best version” of a story as opposed to a fully truthful — especially if it’s a silly one. But in general I tell people the most generous version of the truth or I don’t say anything at all. I’ve got in way more trouble for sins of omission than lying.


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