If there was one cardinal sin in my mom’s book, it was telling a lie. We learned early on that punishment was twice as severe if you’d lied, no matter the action (or inaction) that led to the lie in the first place. And she was better than any lie detector they’ve ever invented: before you were even half-way through the explanation, she knew you were off to a tall tale. We were never flattened literally, but you felt so low after being caught mid-lie that you knew where from came the expression, “Lie like a rug.”
I never got very adept at telling lies. It’s a lot easier to tell the truth. For one thing, you don’t have to remember quite as much stuff if you tell it like it is. And then there’s the “lie” of omission. “Oh, I forgot to tell you,” is not an adequate cover for knowing you didn’t tell and knowing it would have made a difference if you had.
“Tact” is just another lie, but acceptable under some circumstances. Never, ever tell the truth when a friend asks, “Do I look fat in this bathing suit?” Only a model looks good in a bathing suit, or someone under the age of 3. Why do women who should be wearing a swimsuit with the bloomers and a top that looks like a painting smock think they look fabulous in a bikini? That you don’t look like Pamela Anderson in a bathing suit shouldn’t stop you from having fun in the pool. Or in the lake, or in the ocean. After all, you’ll be mostly covered in water, and you know how that will distort an image.
One of our neighbors in Broomfield was a Navy vet, and looked every bit like a 20-year-old midshipman. When he’d get out to mow the lawn wearing jeans and a t-shirt, most of the neighborhood ladies would find an excuse to be out in their front yard. The other husbands were aware, mine included. They’d go out to mow, suck it up so they didn’t look like they were carrying a spare tire, push the mower up and maybe part-way down, then walk hastily to the back yard where they’d let it all out to breathe. Back and forth. It took twice as long for my ex to mow that little front yard than if I’d done it myself. Now, the mowing and breathing bit may be misleading, but it’s not really a lie, particularly inasmuch as the girls in the wives’ club all knew what was going on.
In court, you promise to tell the truth, “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Some folks would do better to remember the “nothing but the truth” part and keep their mouths shut. Having any compunction to tell all, adding a little embroidery here and there to make things look better, will swirl you right into the pokey. Or worse. We all know where telling “the whole truth” got Bill Clinton.
It’s said that the jails are filled with people who didn’t do it. Whatever the “it” may be. More of them are innocent of crime than are guilty, so the fault must be with the judicial system. Or maybe it starts with the “not my child” claims of a mother on the playground, or in the principal’s office?
We all know people who will lie on their tax forms, on applications or on the weight part for their drivers’ license. They’re probably the same folks who will shade the truth in the doctor’s office, and then blame him or her when they die from some stupid little thing that could have been fixed with a pill. If only they’d told the truth.