The Aztecs did it. So did the Egyptians. The Romans did it artfully. They crafted pillars with carvings that told the stories of the leaders who ruled before the current monarch. But upon close examination, those carvings misrepresented . . . eh, disinformed . . . eh, lied about the history of their people for the aggrandizement of the leader in power.
What's wrong with lying? We've all done it. Lies can get us out of a bind and give us a reprieve from a difficult situation. They can make us look good. Lies can give us a chance to avoid an ugly confrontation with someone we like.
But no one likes to be lied to. At the school where I teach, Williamsville East High School, lying is infrequent. But it occurs often enough that you can begin to recognize the signs. Let's say it's homework check time. The teacher moves from desk to desk, where the first sign of lying seems to be non-verbal. Paper rapidly appears on some desks and writing furiously begins.
She sees the frantic searching through the book to get the right details down. She hears the quick whispers that sound like, "What did she want us to do for this log?"
When she gets to the desks of these not-so-diligent students, she asks them to show her their work. Usually a half page of scribbled writing, looking hurried and frantic, is on the page. The teacher looks at the student and mumbles something like, "Just do this now?" The student is silent, never answers.
No one is fooled. The only thing that was learned is how fast you can write on a page and how you can get away with getting homework credit (not!) and still learn nothing.
Lying manifests itself in direct lies. "I was at the nurse" is one of my favorites. If all the people claiming to be with the nurse were really there, she'd have to have 50 couches and a staff of 10 to accommodate them.
Sometimes the liar tries to manipulate the emotions of the teacher. The student says, "My friend had a problem and I had to help her." The teacher asks where the student was -- in guidance? with the nurse? in the office? The student replies, "Yeah." If the teacher is tired, that's where it ends. If the teacher has the energy and the time, a few more questions will bring her the truth, which often is that the kid cut the class and is now lying about it.
Kids aren't the only people who lie. Adults are skillful at it. We have a lifetime of lying in our repertoire.
In my memory, the greatest lies during the Vietnam War were told to the public when we were bombing Laos and Cambodia daily and the government told us we weren't involved in those countries.
And then there was Richard Nixon, whose lies of omission caused the Watergate scandal to change the nature of government and journalism.
Adults at school can hide behind lies, making them seem like part of the lesson plan. Let's say the teacher forgot to type up a test or a plan for the day. She can always blame the secretary because the copy machine is down. Or if she didn't do her reading, she can schedule a "work day" when students and the teacher can do work.
Kids lie on college essays, claiming they are editors of their school papers or yearbooks when in fact they only wrote two articles for the paper two years ago.
Every day, boyfriends lie to girlfriends and vice versa. Adults lie to kids and vice versa, husbands lie to wives and vice versa, friends lie to friends, colleagues lie to colleagues.
And every time it happens, it hurts the liar -- quietly, subconsciously, so you don't really feel it until the lies accumulate. And then it feels as if you can't breathe.
There's no righteous conclusion to this essay. I have lied in the past and will do so again -- to save myself a little trouble, to avoid a truth that will cause others pain. But as I get older and as one more school year begins, I might try what it feels like to lie a little less. Maybe I'll breathe deeper and better for it.
BERNADETTE RUOF lives in Williamsville.
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