I am an appalling inept liar – and, as a child, was always found out. Telling the truth was very important to my parents, and I genuinely struggle to be devious, to lie. In fact, doing so usually makes me so distressed, and sometimes ill, that the truth will come blurting out pretty quickly anyway.
Being a basically honest person has, in the past, got me into all kinds of trouble. You see, when questioned about a ‘crime’, I will always admit it. It did not even occur to me, until I was in my mid-twenties, that there was this grey area – this place called ‘Their word against yours’ – that could be used for manipulative purposes. It is still not a land I can visit with a clear conscience, and one I avoid ninety-nine times out of a hundred.
When I was eighteen, I passed on information about a fellow student at school that I should not have done. The girl concerned got to know about it through an intermediary. I could have so easily denied it, could have told the former that she was imagining things, that the other girl had made it up. But I didn’t. Why? Because I knew I was in the wrong – simple as that.
The intermediary invited me round to her house. Stupidly trusting, I went. Was I surprised when I saw Jane, the girl I had wronged, facing me in the small Living Room? No. I deserved her wrath.
She moved towards me, face a grimace of rage – and then kicked me several times in the stomach with hard hard boots. I did not defend myself. After all, I was the one at fault.
When I was a teacher, I got into serious trouble on several occasions – not so much for my behaviour (as I discovered afterwards, other colleagues got away with far worse) as for my basic inability to lie my way out of difficult situations. When asked if I had sworn at a class, for example (and many teachers do, but most are canny enough to deny the charge), I would inevitably admit to it and apologise profusely (and genuinely) and take my punishment.
An older teacher said to me one day, ‘Why admit to it? It is your word against theirs. There is no proof…’
I could see the twisted logic in this utterance – but have never been able to bring myself to use it.
I don’t know why I find it so hard to lie. I wish I did. I wish, often, that I could lie fluently and convincingly, the way so many other people can. But my body gives me away every time: I blush or stammer or get hay fever or tummy pain or a headache.
I can tell white lies, as they are called – and will do that if I feel that a kind and gentle response is better than brutal truth. What I cannot do is to lie when I am in the wrong, or when something of great weight needs to be aired.
For some individuals in this life, lying is akin to breathing, so naturally does it occur. Their whole philosophy revolves around the concept of ‘Getting away with it’ – and, if that means swearing blind that black is, actually, white (and that you are a cretin for not seeing that self-evident truth), then so be it.
Such people meet accusation – whether justified or not – with reams of rhetoric, and flat-out denial. They will counter the charges with words like ‘misheard’ ‘misunderstood’ ‘exaggerated’ or even ‘fabrication caused by a long-standing grudge/crush/mental illness…’
For these people, the injustice lies in their having been caught, not in the actual behaviour which led up to the unpleasant interview taking place. Conscience is something which applies to other mugs, but not them.
Is it that such people do not recognise the truth? That their upbringing is devoid of moral guidance and ethical principles? No: I do not believe this to be the case, at least not for all professional liars. I think it is far simpler: They know all the rules for decent behaviour, but do not consider that they apply to them. They know, intellectually, that lying is wrong – but only for lesser mortals. Deities in their own minds and lives, these people feel that they can adapt societal rules to suit themselves.
Truth, for these lordly ones, is a sliding scale. Truth is expedient. Truth is a tool to be used.
And the telling of it, or withholding of it, is part of a hugely enjoyable game which starts in childhood and can last for an entire lifetime.
I am not ashamed of having a conscience, of having been brought up to be honest in my dealings with others. Of course it would be less painful for me if I were a better liar. I could have avoided that kicking so long ago for starters.
But I cannot help suspecting that those smooth-tongued ones whose lies just flow off the verbal production line with such ease are missing out on something essential in the personality’s make-up – something of grit and grist and gristle and grind which keeps us fully human and irritates the inner lining of entitlement and incipient deceit.
There is, after all, more to life than getting away with it!