Liars have been all over the headlines these past few weeks. John Edwards was indicted for political corruption. Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered an employee’s child. Anthony Weiner tweeted lewd photos of himself to women he’d met online. Each man committed serious lapses of judgment then lied repeatedly about their behavior to families and constituents.
Of course, lying is nothing new. People have lied and been deceitful since the dawn of time. The Bible says, “All men are liars.” Buddha wrote that both killing and lying are evil.
Yet each of us lies as a matter of course. Mostly we tell tiny white lies to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. We say, “That meal was really scrumptious!” when actually the food was so-so. Lying is often considered to be good manners or the way to avoid an unpleasant scene. Any husband who’s been asked, “Honey, does this dress make me look fat?” must either break one of the Ten Commandments or risk a pouty spouse.
We even teach our children how to lie. We have them write thank you notes for gifts from friends and relatives, even if they don’t like what they’ve received.
The difference is that our lies aren’t related to character. They’re actually social skills that help us succeed when we’re with others. Telling things exactly as we see them is usually inappropriate and often comes across as aggressive and rude. Couching statements in kinder verbiage may not be 100 percent truthful but makes for easier interpersonal relationships.
Serious liars aren’t telling fiblets. Their falsehoods reflect a deeper psychological disorder. They’re able to commit heinous errors and concoct elaborate cover-ups to hide their sins. They’re even willing to drag innocent bystanders into the mire with them as long as it increases their chances of going free.
Such behavior is incredibly puzzling to me. I’m incapable of implementing complicated ploys. I couldn’t live with that level of psychic angst. Like the mad man in Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart I’d quickly confess to the crimes I may have committed.
The difference between me and Anthony Weiner may have to do with our brains. Researchers at USC led by Yaling Yang and Adrian Raine discovered structural brain abnormalities in people who habitually lie, cheat and manipulate others. They found that chronic liars had a 22 percent increase in white matter compared to a control group and 14.2 percent less gray matter. White matter is considered to be the wiring in the brain that provides liars with the tools they need to be sneaky. Gray matter is responsible for keeping impulses in check, so liars have fewer controls reining them in.
Perhaps these are the same skill sets that make politics so attractive to them in the first place. They have the smarts and the drive to get elected and fewer scruples overseeing what they do.
There will always be liars eager to fool us. Deceit is innate in our species. Still, I’ll monitor my own character closely. And try to surround myself with reliable folks.
Tips for dealing with liars
Do you think someone’s lying to you? Use these tactics to get to the truth:
Listen to your gut instincts. If you feel that someone’s lying to you, chances are good that they are. Trust the little voice inside you. It’s very seldom wrong.
Consider the past. Does this person have a history of lying?
Do you have trouble believing anything he or she says? Then this time is probably no different. Lying seldom stops.
Assess the data. Check the cellphone records. See where they’ve been online.
Ask friends to confirm or deny the liar’s whereabouts. Gather corroborating evidence to back up your hunch.
Calmly present your concerns. Don’t yell or go ballistic. Be rational and stick to the facts. Expect that your liar will deny any wrongdoing. That’s what liars do.
Don’t fall for distractions. Liars are great at blaming others or diverting attention to unrelated issues. Stick to the topic of your liar’s behavior. Nothing else matters at this time.
Be ready to call it quits. If you’re involved with a liar, you’re in trouble. Your liar isn’t going to change. If you’re not married or if you’re married and don’t have children, make a beeline for the door. If you have underage offspring together it’s going to be a tougher call.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com