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Lying Through Teeth and Other Places
by Marjorie Dorfman

Why do perfectly honest people begin to lie once they have reached middle age? Why is telling the truth about one's age so difficult to do? Read on for the painful truth and a chuckle.

Mark Twain once said: "If you tell the truth, you don't ever have to remember what you said." As far as I'm concerned, he couldn't have been more right on target. I'm one of those people who cannot lie well. Untruths roll off my forked tongue and usually cause me more trouble than they are worth. Almost every time I tell a lie, I either get caught or find myself in a situation that could have been avoided had I opted for the truth in the first place. Are you that way too? If so, then we both need to remember that "the truth shall set us free."

The problem lies in that "gray zone" of definition. What is a lie anyway? Is it really "white" or is that just a "fib" as Scarlett O' Hara used to call her machinations in between bouts for Tara and Rhett Butler? If my friend has gained 50 pounds and asks me how she looks, do I really need to be completely truthful? Wouldn't that be more hurtful than helpful? What if I said instead: "You might be happier getting down to the weight you used to be," or some such thing? I'm still telling the truth, but it's cushioned somewhere between my words and her thighs. Isn't that kinder? Or is it better to say: "you gained fifty pounds, it looks more like a hundred, you look terrible" and be out with it?

I will always opt for the softer way because feelings are important. I also know how it feels to be on the other end of the not-so-thin stick. When I stopped smoking and gained thirty pounds about ten years ago, I ran into an old male acquaintance who said to me: "You certainly put on a couple of pounds since I saw you last." I whispered in his ear how grateful I was, how I would never have noticed had he not taken the time to tell me. His face turned red with embarrassment and when I ran into him again some twenty-five pounds less about a year later I made sure to thank him again for reminding me about how much weight I had gained. It took all of my will power not to comment on the fact that his front teeth had gone to the seashore and left his mouth behind. I can't tell you how badly I wanted to say say: "You certainly have lost a few teeth, haven't you?"

In some ways, the truth is like the state of pregnancy. It can never be relative or mistaken for anything else. Telling the "truth" however, can be and therein lies the problem within the womb of our minds. There's a whole cosmos between telling all of the truth, most of the truth, some of the truth and a little bit of the truth. Of course, to deliberately leave something out of an important equation is also a lie. I believe the correct term is "lie of omission" An example might be: "Oh, didn't I tell you I was married? I thought I did." Or: "Hadn't I mentioned I had custody of quintuplets? How could that have possibly slipped my mind?" For these kinds of lies, the only punishment is banishment from one's mind or death. Not relative at all and that's even if it is a relative who tells you it is. A lie is like Shakespeare's proverbial rose. By any other name it's still a lie.

So how does one strive to tell the truth at least 98% of the time? (This allows 2% for a responsible life.) I usually fall into the lying pit when I don't want to tell my real age, hurt someone else's feelings or participate in some social occasion. Almost always, I get caught with my well-manicured foot inside my mouth. I guess it's the universe zapping me for saying it isn't so (even though that song had major success a long time ago. I guess things have changed.)

Will I ever learn? Perhaps, but in one area I know there can be no hope for me. Each dawn I face the fact that as far as my age is concerned, I can never be rehabilitated. I lie about it so often that sometimes I almost forget how old I really am. (Almost, but not quite.) I also forget what I said and often will look straight in someone's face if they dare to ask me the dreaded question and make up a number! It's usually just a few years off, but after all, it's the principle of the thing. When one reaches middle age, phrases like "over 21" and "somewhere between 30 and death" lose their appeal. I opt for the old adage: "Ask me no age questions and I'll tell you no age lies!"

What to do? I have no idea! All I can say is that a few final thoughts on the subject might include speaking softly when you lie. Perhaps your victim will not hear you and you can later deny what you said. You might also try telling the same lie to different people and see how far you get. Try not to embellish it or change it in any way. I'm sure you will find it be an exercise as pointless as attempting to make a hole in water. The truth about lying is that it's very much like crime. In the end, it just doesn't pay.

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Copyright 2002