“What upsets me is not that you lied to me, but that from now on I can no longer believe you.” – Nietzsche
Greetings my Dear Ones!
It’s February…our temperatures have fluctuated by almost sixty degrees in the past five days. After the recent cold snap that went only as low as -12F at my house (not quite the polar vortex suffered by the Midwest), we ran around like fools in T-shirts when the mercury rose to 50F—it felt so balmy! Every year, I have to remind myself to make no major life decisions before the daffodils appear. It’s too hard to trust anything in February—from the weather to my internal sunlight-deprived state of mind. One must dress in layers of wool and skepticism. We have nothing to look forward to but mud, shams, and shamrocks in March too—it’s tempting abandon all attempts at Elegance until mid April. Getting from the house to the car will be a full-contact sport for many weeks to come.
Valentine’s Day is coming up. So is Prom season. It’s as good a time as any to ponder lies. For one thing, people seem to lie to us in the shop all the time. Sometimes, their lies are really funny. Sometimes they are deeply painful. Sometimes they affect us financially. Sometimes they keep us up at night. Some might argue that a lie is a lie and any Untruth is a crime against our spirits. I think reality is more confusing than that. For one thing, we create our own reality based on both our ignorance and our experience. A woman came into the shop and said “I’m so glad I found you! I had no idea you guys were here. I’m not from around here.” “Oh, really?” I ask, instantly curious. I love meeting people from other places. “Where are you from?” I inquire, thinking she will say something exotic like Colorado or Michigan. But NO. She names the town Right Next To This One—the one whose very border is less than three miles from our doorstep. She’s lived there all her life, never lived anywhere else, just never bothered to go three miles southwest! But she’s not from “around here.”
Sometimes lies are just big verbal turds that people leave behind, expecting others to clean up. There is a woman who works in the local prison system who had all her uniforms altered and then got promoted before she could collect her order. She no longer needs those shirts, so she won’t come pick them up. Nor will she send a check. This has been going on for nearly a year. On the rare occasions that she can be reached by phone (by tricking her and disguising the number of the shop) she laughs and says she’ll be in “tomorrow” to get everything. Then she isn’t.
A bride came and picked up her wedding dress on her wedding day. She did not have the full payment with her. She gave us less than a third of the total cost and gratefully promised to send a cheque with the remainder later. We let the dress go. What kind of monsters would deprive a bride of her dress on her wedding day? Who doesn’t have compassion for the disorganized and flustered on that day? These things happen. We have allowed many brides to take their dresses. Now, she refuses to pay for about fifty hours worth of work that she feels should be free because she didn’t like the price of professional service to begin with. A trip to small claims court did nothing. She tearfully told the adjudicator that “it’s not like she didn’t pay something—she paid “what she could” but we were just “too greedy.” Our prices were too high, though she admitted that the quality of the work was outstanding.
I agree with a man who says lying can be defined in terms similar to murder: There are first degree lies that are told with malice aforethought and intent to deliberately mislead or do harm. Then there are second degree Falsehoods of Convenience that folks use to convince themselves that they can have things the way they want them, unencumbered by the Truth. Finally, there are the so-called “White Lies”—which are some of the dirtiest. (Why tell someone they look good if they don’t?) But we are all guilty of saying we are “fine” when the reality is more like your cat just pooped in your shoes, your girlfriend dumped you, and you just found out there is a snow storm on the way and you have neither bread nor milk. Sometimes these “White lies” are told to prevent an argument or bad feelings over something generally meaningless: “This? Why it was on SALE! Yes…it was practically free.” Sometimes the information we have said only includes things we want to say and excludes things that we don't want anyone to know. So while TECHNICALLY we have not told anything false, we have also not revealed all that we know to be true—as in: Me holding up crusty trousers:“Did you wash these?” Customer: “Yes. (once, a long time ago, probably during the first Bush administration) Yes. Definitely. They have been washed.”
Growing up, lying of any kind was a Serious Offense in my family home, with swift and HARSH consequences—what Prudence nods to approvingly as “Good Old-Fashioned Discipline,” not the little chat or “time-out” that people give their kids today. My mother had a fool-proof way to get us kids to tell her the truth. When crimes or misdemeanors were committed in the household, Inquisitions were held immediately. Anyone whose testimony was doubted was required to stick out his or her tongue. She had us convinced that if we told a lie, a “black spot” would appear on the surface of the tongue. We lied to each other and into mirrors all the time to test this phenomenon but we never saw a single black spot. She told us it was something “only mothers could see” and that one day, if we were lucky enough to have rotten little children of our own who lied to us, we would be able to see the spots then. It was incredible. She always could tell when we were lying. We had no idea how she managed it. She was never wrong. (Let’s not get into the extreme Irony around the fact that my mother told this great Whopper herself, in order to get us to keep to the straight and narrow. Maybe anyone who has five or more children is allowed to fight dirty for Justice to be served.) Twenty years later, over a beer, she admitted that she could always tell by how fast or slowly we would stick our tongues out whether or not we had something “to hide.”
I learned very young that Yes, the Truth hurts—sometimes excruciatingly so. As I have aged, I have also come to learn that the hurt from a harsh truth never lasts as long as the hurt from a lie, no matter how well-intentioned.
So why do people lie, especially when they don’t need to? Do we really care whether it was your dog or your cat or your own recklessness that caused your pants to rupture? We don’t need to hear what you were drinking when your sleeve caught fire. From my little sewing desk in the corner, here is what I think is The Truth about lies:
Most Liars really want us to like them—at the very least, they don’t want to disappoint us. They come up with the most fascinating stories to make themselves look like good-humored, totally innocent victims we should Not Judge. Fundamentally, they are trying to hide themselves because they suspect they might not be acceptable, never mind loveable, just As They Are.
The lies may not matter to us, but they matter to our customers. They invest in their stories, no matter how irrelevant we may find them. They actually care deeply about centering themselves in a reality of their choosing—even if it’s that they own a magic Christmas tree farm that requires them to wear costumes from the Australian Outback in the nineteenth century.
They are often trying to control a situation and are using lies to manipulate an outcome. “I need this shirt done by Friday (which is secretly two weeks before I actually need it) because my sister’s/friend’s/pet gold fish’s previous owner has requested I wear this shirt to her wedding on Saturday…” instead of simply ASKING “Is there any reason I could not have this when I want it?” At least once a week, we are in a panic that someone has not come in to collect an important item, only to find out they don’t need it for another week or two and had given us a false date. Such subterfuges are demeaning to us because they belie a customer’s lack of faith in our willingness or ability to serve him/her just because it is the Right Thing To Do! (How does anyone stay in business if they don’t give their people what they want when they want it??)
Lies swiftly become great big, fat snowballs. They roll downhill gathering weight and collecting more and more details and complications as they go. I can always tell when a customer is feeling nervous and starting down a tricky path of um…. “FABRIC-ation” about her garment. Sometimes a little inaccuracy saves them tons of explanation. Sometimes tons of explanation leads them far astray.
They don’t think they are lying anymore—they have told this particular fib for so long that they actually think it is the truth. “No, seriously, I AM a size 10.”
They know it is not the truth but they so desperately want it to be true—like the time I asked my five-year-old who had scribbled on the wall in crayon and written her (misspelled) name about eighteen inches off the ground and she told me right away that “Daddy did it.” Among my personal favorites: “This fits great—I just can’t get the zip up.” “It’s not my size but it fits me.”
I believe most people are honest most of the time. Some statistics would have us believing that people are confusing or misrepresenting themselves to us about thirty percent of the time but as Mark Twain pointed out, there are “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
What do you hear when you know someone has lied to you? “I hear that I am not valued,” says a friend. Personally, I think it’s just the opposite. I think the liar is not valuing him/her Self. The lies we tell other people are nothing to the lies we tell ourselves—sly deceptions spun from clever minds and bitter hearts.
And that’s as close to the Truth as I can get today.
Be well my Darlings!