Annie Lennox, Day 30 #HAWMC 2013, Gallup Poll, Katie Maggs, lie-detection, making time, Maya Angelou, National Honesty Day, Oprah, Paul Tsongas, Studies on Lying, The Book of Lies: Schemes Scams Fakes and Frauds That Have Changed the Course of History and Affect Our Daily Lives, The Eurythmics, The Paris Review, Truth, Would I lie to You
Over for another year, this month long Writing Challenge’s final assignment prompts word-weary pseudo-writers like me to glance back at the trail of breadcrumbs I’ve scattered behind me over the past thirty days. Fitting, since April 30th coincides with National Honesty Day, which, in all honesty, I never knew existed.
A Mr. M. Hirsh Goldberg, Press Secretary to a former governor of Maryland and author of the aptly titled “The Book of Lies: Schemes, Scams, Fakes, and Frauds That Have Changed the Course of History and Affect Our Daily Lives thought such a day would provide much-needed balance for a month that begins with a day for lying, April Fool’s Day.
It never occurred to me that we would need to officially designate twenty four hours for honesty, but then I haven’t read Mr. Goldberg’s book nor any of his research which reveals that we mortals tell up to 200 lies a day, from great fat whoppers about why deadlines were missed to teeny-weeny white lies about a friend’s new hair color. Admittedly fascinated by this, I had to venture a little deeper into the tangled web and found myself at a Radical Honesty website. Well. Not to be disrespectful (or maybe I’m just not being honest), but I wonder if the patrons of the Radical Honesty website consider themselves “honesty radicals,” which makes them sound a bit dangerous and alternative. Edgy and urban, like a band from somewhere rainy, like Seattle or Derry, circa 1990.
As intrigued as I am by the honesty radicals, I would not want to cross their paths on a bad-hair day, made worse perhaps by the kind of cold-sore my best friend Amanda names after those people she believes caused it (as you do with hurricanes), and therefore feeling unattractive, perhaps even ugly. According to the Frequently Asked Questions page at the Radical Honesty website, where you will find self-assured psychologist and founder, Dr. Brad Blanton, waxing honest about the truth, the “honest radical” would make no bones about validating my sorry state on such a day. The FAQ page includes a sample question and answer to help prepare an aspiring truth-teller with what to say should they have the misfortune to encounter me on my worst hair day ever, when I might be feeling “unattractive,” or “outstandingly ugly.” I am not making this up. I couldn’t make this up. As Dr. Blanton himself explains:
Suppose you met someone whom you found unattractive. How do you handle that?
If the person’s outstandingly ugly, then that’s an issue I’m certainly going to bring up to talk about right off. I would say, “I think you look kind of ugly and this is what I think is ugly. I think that big wart on the left side of your face is probably something that puts people off and that you don’t have much of a love life, is that true?” Then we’ll have a conversation about it. That ugly person has probably always felt the negative unexpressed reaction from people. The idea is that they end up not avoiding the damn thing instead of living a life that’s dancing on egg shells. They live life out loud and it’s a whole lot better life.
What else can I say, other than Founder, Brad Blanton Ph.D., ran twice as an Independent candidate for the United States House of Representatives. He did not, however, win. If you would like to get to know him better, you can always visit his website and sign up for what appears to be something along the lines of a truth-a-palooza in Greece later this summer. I’m not making this up. Honestly.
My renewed interest in the the benefits of being entirely truthful now at a rolling boil (and the whole point of the 30th day of the writing challenge momentarily on a back burner), I’m now curious about who among us lies the most. Another quick search takes me to a 2010 study in the United Kingdom in which researchers found that out of 3,000 people polled, the average British male tells 1,092 lies each year, about three a day; his female counterpart, a mere 728 times a year – around twice a day. BBC News kindly provides a chart showing the top ten lies told by men and women, which I find intriguing and, well, a bit too familiar. Survey Says:
Top 10 Lies Told by Women
- Nothing’s wrong, I’m fine.
- I don’t know where it is, I haven’t touched it
- It wasn’t that expensive.
- I didn’t have that much to drink.
- I‘ve got a headache.
- It was on sale. (which would be impressive only if it were in a sale in 1978)
- I‘m on my way.
- Oh, I’ve had this ages. (surely this is preceded by “This old thing?”)
- No, I didn’t throw it away. (yes … these words have fallen from my lips in reference to a pair of cargo shorts and/or a Hawaiian shirt)
- It’s just what I’ve always wanted.
To be fair, here are the Top 10 Lies Told by Men:
- I didn’t have that much to drink
- Nothing’s wrong, I’m fine
- I had no signal
- It wasn’t that expensive
- I’m on my way
- I’m stuck in traffic
- No, your bum doesn’t look big in that (in our house, this is typically a measured and calm “No,” from my husband in response to “Do these jeans make my butt look big?” He has used “Not really,” in the past. But only once.)
- Sorry, I missed your call
- You’ve lost weight. (Instinctively, my husband knows not to say this because it will in some way imply that prior to the weight loss, I must have been fat, but not when I asked him about the jeans.)
- It’s just what I’ve always wanted.
Katie Maggs, associate medical curator for the London Science Museum, which commissioned the study, believes we have a way to go in determining whether lying can bet attributed to our genes, evolution, or the way we were raised, pointing out that “Lying may seem to be an unavoidable part of human nature but it’s an important part of social interaction.” She goes on to explain that the prevalence of lying has led to an increase in research dedicated to lie-detection technology. Ms. Maggs admits that only a few of us appear to be able to detect with any accuracy when someone ie lying based on subtile facial or behavioral cues, but high tech-developers are hard at work creating more precise technologies.
What about people in various professions? How do they fare in the truth-telling business? According to a Gallup poll in 2011 in which participants were asked to rate the honesty and ethical standards of 21 professions, members of Congress sit right at the bottom below lobbyists, car salesmen, and telemarketers. The top three perceived as most honest are, nurses, pharmacists, and medical doctors, which, I have to say, makes me breathe a little easier. But only a little.
In my working life, which now spans three decades, I have been gobsmacked by many of the lies that have flown from the lips of people behaving badly. Not the harmless white lies told to spare feelings, but the other kind employed to preserve the images and reputations of some, while systematically destroying others in the process. There are the flat-out lies that are told to reframe, defame, blame, shame, and even destroy other people. There are the truths that go unuttered, so their very opposite must be true – where there’s smoke there’s fire, right? Often, a different corollary is at work; instead of fire, there are mirrors that distort and deceive. Once ensnared, it is virtually impossible to escape unscathed. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!” Indeed.
Before I go any further, and even though she doesn’t know me, I must apologize to Oprah. I used to think that if it was screaming from the headlines of The National Enquirer, there had to be at least a grain of truth in it (the idiomatic smoke and fire ) I have since learned that, as a friend recently put it, “People make shit up. They just make shit up.” A more elegant assessment of what people do, comes from Maya Angelou, who, in an interview with Opran, explains that gossip and lies are attempts to
Reduce your humanity through what Jules Feiffer called little murders. The minute I hear [someone trying to demean me], I know that that person means to have my life. And I will not give it to them
So as I bid farewell to the Writing Challenge for another year, it is as a fifty year old. Wiser. Happier. In good health. Telling the truth. I enjoyed seeing where many of the daily prompts took me and, of course, meeting others along the way. One of the high points was the opportunity to meet AnneMarie Ciccarella of Chemo-Brain.Blogspot.Com, another blogger known to many of you who stop here. We both happened to be in Washington D.C. at the same time, for different reasons, and found the time to meet at the end of a long Saturday. With age, I am realizing there are so many moments just like these that are worth making time for and infinitely sweeter and better for us than any extra minute spent at the office.
Finding the time to write every day proved that there is time in the day to write and reinforced again that all these moments that make up a day and a life, are of unequal weight. For years, before illness, I made them so, my priorities slightly askew, perhaps not terribly different from those of late Senator Paul Tsongas, who said in a 1992 interview:
Pre-cancer, I was one of the pettiest people you’ve ever run into … I would get angry at my wife for leaving the top off the toothpaste. I’d get angry at my kids for the dumbest things. Looking back on it I feel mortified. I was a fool.
The cancer diagnosis required him to take stock, and in Heading Home, the late Tsongas explains that it was a letter from an old friend, Arnold Zack, that helped put in perspective the senator’s promising political career,
“No one on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time on my business.”
A least favorite prompt? Honestly, because, you know it is that day, Day 8’s prompt annoyed me. “If your health condition were an animal, what would it be?” It brought to mind all those god-awful uncomfortable ice-breakers and energizers so many of us have been forced into at work retreats and orientations for new employees. Nonetheless, after stewing about it for a minute or two, I was able to produce a post that I enjoyed writing: Breast Cancer Ice Breaker. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, when I was trying to prove to my brother that Thomas Hardy is a great writer, because even our favorite poet, Seamus Heaney, says so, I stumbled upon something Heaney said in response to a similar question about what animal he would be from Henri Cole during The Art of Poetry No. 75 interview for The Paris Review. (Seriously, who asks that of a Nobel Prize-winning Poet and then follows up with “and what building would you be?” I kid you not). Anyway, I can just hear the man from Anahorish deliver this phlegmatic response:
I might enjoy being an albatross, being able to glide for days and daydream for hundreds of miles along the thermals. And then being able to hang like an affliction round some people’s necks.
Until next year, then, consider me as Heaney, adrift for miles and miles, and then coming to rest around the necks of others who might possibly be trying to shake me off right now. Would I lie to you?
Thank you for reading.
P.S. If you’ve made it to the bottom of this post, you most likely have The Eurhythmics “Would I Lie to You?” stuck in your head. You might as well take a minute or two to enjoy a very young and impressive Annie Lennox belting it out in this 1985 video.