The Value of a Strategic Lie
I believe in lying. I tell lies all the time. In fact, I can remember my first conscious lie. I was four years old and I was playing in a sandbox with Marie, my cousin of the same age. We were having a great time until we heard her father bellow her name from inside the house. Marie leaped out of the sandbox and ran to hide in a small plot of tall corn that grew in our garden. The porch screen door flew open, Marie’s father stomped over to me and asked in his loud scary voice, “Where’s Marie!?”
“ I don’t know,” I said with as straight a face as a four-year-old can muster.
“You’d better not be lying!” he said pointing his finger at me.
“I’m not,” I lied again.
Marie’s father went back into the house. Almost immediately, I heard his wife trying to calm him down. It was a common enough occurrence in Marie’s life.
A few minutes later, Marie returned to the sandbox. I could tell she’d been crying. She said thank you to me, and then we played quietly for a while. Marie broke the silence by asking me if I would marry her. I knew in my young head that there was something about cousins not being able to each other, but I didn’t say that. I should have. Instead, I made a face and said, “Ewoo! No! I’m never getting married!”
Marie took a mighty swing with her big wooden spoon and cold-cocked me face down into the sand. I awoke in my mother’s lap with an icepack pressed to my head. I should have lied. Marie ended up in trouble afterall.
Another lie that stands out in my memory occurred on a chilly Saturday morning when I was a junior in high school. Our phone rang very early…much earlier than social convention allows for that time and day of the week. For reasons I don’t remember, I ended up answering the phone. As I walked into the kitchen to answer it, I noticed a sleeping body on the floor of our living room. Our dog’s very dirty couch blanket covered the body’s head and shoulders. I let the mystery be for the moment and answered the phone.
“Is that jerk of a son of mine over there?”
I recognized the voice immediately. It still sounded slightly drunk. It was the father of one of my older brother’s good friends.
“No.” It was an easy lie…no effort at all. “Go back to bed and stop waking people up when you’re drunk.” I hung up quickly before he could respond. I put another blanket on my brother’s friend and went back to bed myself.
At the time of this writing, I’m 56 years old. I’ve taught school for 25 years, and I’ve told more lies to parents, administrators, and students than I could possibly count. I’ve given up worrying about the right or wrong of my behavior. I’m a lier, and probably always will be.
Tonight, it’s my night to do dinner. I’m going to pour myself a glass of bad red wine and make spaghetti. Sometime around 5:30, my wonderful wife of 21 years is going to come home with a new haircut. I’m going to give her a big hug and tell her it looks great!
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