Photo by Anita Ankovic on Unsplash

“That outfit really suits you!” I said, straight faced, to the well proportioned lady, in a flowing, vivid orange, plain weave. Without doubt, a downright, big fat, juicy, lie.  The vision in question had bought expensively, but with no sense of taste or colour, had turned up looking like an overinflated tangerine. Surely a case of being confident and wrong. What else could I do? I lied!

I am not alone in the lying stakes, though. Let’s not beat about the bush here, we all lie! 

A survey by the University of Massachusetts, found that most people lie in everyday conversation, especially when they are trying to appear likeable and competent. In a ten-minute conversation, sixty percent of people lie at least once, and on average, tell two to three lies.

Lying is something human beings do.  There are theories that animals lie, or at least bluff each other, but that’s a discussion for another time. 

Human beings lie.  It’s an unavoidable part of human nature. Lying is so common, that even though, most people admit publicly lying is wrong, when it happens, it hardly raises a ripple. Especially, if there’s a good reason for it. 

To go a step further, lying is considered not only necessary, but virtuous. It can actually be seen as a good thing. Even so, our innate, strict moral code, and timidity at appearing rebellious, makes us admit, in public at least, that lying is unacceptable and that all liars will come to a sticky end. 

Many fiction writers, have also ploughed the “honesty is the best policy” furrow. Down the centuries they’ve energetically, flown the flag for veracity, virtue and truthfulness.

Pinocchio, is a string puppet and the protagonist of the children’s novel, “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” by Italian writer Carlo Collodi. Pinocchio’s best-known feature, is his nose. A nose that grows in length, when he tells a lie. In fact, at one point it grows so long, he’s unable get it “through the door of a room”. 

The nose, becomes a visual metaphor for the act of lying. The moral of the story being “Telling the truth, not only sets you free,” (from the puppet strings in Pinocchio’s case), but will also save you the tiresome duty of having to deal with an elongated snout.

It’s ironic, then, that someone known for lying on an industrial scale, the 37th president of the United States, Richard Nixon, had a nose of “Cyrano,” proportions.

The Watergate scandal broke after it was discovered that five men were arrested after breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate building in Washington D.C. It set the bar for presidential lies, when Nixon denied any involvement with the incident announcing on a televised press conference, “I am not a crook.” The evidence though, was such that, faced with almost certain impeachment, Nixon resigned from his second term in office.

Unfortunately, Politicians have a reputation for lying or, at least, “being economical with the truth.” A phrase, that originated with the 18th century statesman, Edmund Burke, when he wrote in his letters to Parliament: “Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatsoever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an economy of truth.”

That “economy,” is alive and kicking in the contemporary world, much as it was in Burke’s time. Back in 2001, Jeffrey Archer, one time MP and successful author, was found guilty on two counts of perjury and a further two of perverting the course of justice. For this, he was sent to prison for four years. It that time, he wrote the three-volume memoir, “A Prison Diary,” fashioned after Dante’s Divine Comedy. A year later, he was suspended from Marylebone Cricket Club. History fails to tell us what he wrote, following that ignominy.

Lying, or, carefully avoiding the truth, can be seen in some circumstances as, good business practise. In 1912, the White Star Line, owners of the ill-fated Titanic, claimed that the ship was unsinkable. An iceberg was to prove them wrong. The truth though, was that the Berg was not the only villain of the piece. Once it had been spotted, dead ahead, instead of steering Titanic safely round to the left of the iceberg, the steersman, Robert Hitchins, panicked and turned it the wrong way. For White Star to admit that an employee had made such a gross error, was something they were loath to do. The finger then, was firmly pointed at the culpable Berg.

During the Vietnam War, Lyndon B Johnson, deliberately concealed negative information about the progress of the war, as a means of using the “strong support of the American public,” as a tool for negotiating peace.

So why do we lie? The dictionary definition of lying is, “to make a false statement with the intention to deceive”. So, are lying and deception “one in the same”?

According to the “Stanford Encyclopedia* (Stet) of Philosophy”: A lie is an untruthful assertion. The speaker intends to cause belief in the truth of a statement, that the speaker believes to be false. Hence, a lie involves an intention to deceive.  Deception, on the other hand, is an act, big or small, cruel or kind, of causing someone to believe something that is untrue. 

Can you see light between these two statements? I’m not finding it easy. In fact, all I can really be sure of is that one leads inevitably to the other. Rather like love and marriage. Although, maybe, that’s not the best analogy?

Whether those lies are big, such as, “I’ve never cheated on you,” or more often, of the smaller, white type, as in my case, “That outfit really suits you!” It’s still a lie. Although, in my defence I did it, to spare the feelings of a well intentioned lady, who saw lurid, orange organza, as a fashion triumph.

Logically then, if someone can’t get what they want by telling the truth, they go for it, by lying.  Adolf Hitler, was a big fan of falsehoods, admitting freely that, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” 

Now, we’re not all paranoid dictators, with toothbrush moustaches, but we do all succumb from time to time, whether for the right or wrong reasons, to the practise of misleading. 

But, be of good cheer though, fellow fibbers, there is something that can lift our burden of forever being, doomed deceivers! 

Music, according to the late Jimi Hendrix, doesn’t lie! “If there is something to be changed in this world,” he’s quoted as saying, ”then it can only happen through music.”

And that’s no lie.