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Liar Liar, Pants on Fire!

posted Oct 9, 2013, 9:29 PM by Tiffany Rainey   [ updated Nov 22, 2013, 2:56 PM ]
Have you ever wondered why some people tell senseless, trivial lies that don't seem to be motivated by any tangible gain? For instance, Billy and Bobby have just returned from Las Vegas. Billy says he won first place and five thousand dollars in a poker tournament. But Bobby already told you that Billy was the third-to-last player to lose his seat. You might think nothing of it, as you have to come expect a tall tale or three from your friend. Or you might sympathize with Billy, blame it on a compulsion beyond his control. Or you might roll your eyes and whisper to Bobby, "Damn. You can't trust anything that guy says." You may not contradict Billy aloud but you are probably thinking, "liar!" You are probably wondering with a tinge of disgust why he doesn't just tell it like it is. 
Maybe you can't trust what Billy says, but are you paying attention to what he's not saying? Could he be saying - without saying - that he's super proud to have placed third in the tournament, so proud that he feels like he won first?

We tend to see these things in black and white: exaggerations and fabrications are signs of immorality or character flaw. But could it be that many people, when they lie or exaggerate, are simply trying to narrate actual experiences in a way that best conveys how they felt during that [real or imagined] experience or how they felt about it at the telling? 

Let me play "the liar" for a bit. The problem with the black and white truth is that your interpretations and reactions to the truth don't always align with mine and, due to trial and error, I know this before I share my story with you. Consider these conflicting stories and decide which makes you feel how the narrator probably felt:

#1  I was sipping coffee in the break room when a coworker came in. I said hello but she walked past me without saying anything. Then, she sat with another coworker and they began talking amongst themselves. I felt rejected and left out. I feel that, for some reason, my coworker dislikes me and it really bothers me. 

#2  I was sipping coffee in the break room when a coworker came in. I tried to talk to her but she just looked right at me and kept walking. Then, she sat with her back to me, whispering to another coworker. I know she was talking about me but I have no idea what I could have done to make her dislike me. 

The first scenario is probably a more accurate description of the interaction but it doesn't convey the insecurity [or paranoia] the narrator felt. Additionally, it would be more likely to elicit a doubting response than one of confirmation. The second scenario isn't the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but doesn't it help you relate? She should probably follow that statement with a disclaimer, something like, "Ok, that's not what actually happened, but that's how it made me feel." Everyone claims they just can't understand why some people stretch the truth but it's actually quite simple. It's what we say when we really, really need someone to empathize. 

Confession time. I tell tall tales.

Sometimes, recreating a feeling is more important that recreating a black and white truth. But what if your tall tales just don't go over so well with society? Well, then you should try your hand at fiction. Because only in fiction are you expected to change what really happened to match how something or someone makes your characters feel. And because, in fiction, disclaimers are unnecessary. So go ahead, tell your tall tale. No judgment here.