Learning to lie

The day was wet and cold and the clouds indicated that this was set to continue but I had to go to school despite the weather. Because my mother believed I had a weak chest, she would dress me up if I went out in the rain. Most kids got away with a raincoat and a school cap. Not I.

Sailor wearing a sou'westerFirst, there were the Wellington boots and a bag with shoes to change into once I was at school. Then there was the raincoat, so long that that it came nearly to my ankles. Finally, and worst of all, was the sou’wester for my head. Today, as I slog along the city streets under the pouring rain I think a sou’wester would be a good thing to have but for a child, on the way to school, it was a torment because it would lead to pointing, catcalls and sarcastic remarks.

“And don’t forget,” my mother commanded, as I left the house. “Don’t forget to put it all on when you go out for break.”

I bit my lip, put my head down and hurried off to school. I could already hear the teasing and imagine the other kids pointing and dancing around me as I stood shamefaced in the playground in my sou’wester.

Breaktime came. “Out you go,” said the teacher. I looked through the window. It was cold but not actually raining. Some of the other kids were already out there, a few wearing coats but no one with a cap or hat. I went to the cloakroom and put on my coat. I left the wellingtons and the sou’wester where they were and ran into the playground…

As I walked home from school, I had only one thought in mind. My mother would ask whether I had put on all my rain gear for break and when I said no, I would get into trouble. I went indoors and acted as normally as I could. At last came the dreaded question.

“Did you put on your coat, boots and sou’wester at break?” asked my mother.

“Yes,” I said.

“Good,” said my mother and went to prepare the meal.

Where that “Yes” came from, I had no idea. I hadn’t even thought to lie. It had happened all by itself or perhaps been an inspiration of the moment. I remember the feeling of surprised relief that flooded over me and expressed itself in the thought: “Is it really that easy?”

I learned a lesson that day. While I believe that we should tell the truth most of the time (if we cannot assume that what people tell us is true, then language ceases to have any meaning and we might as well return to grunts and whistles like the creatures of the forest), I think there are times when it is justified to lie.

“The truth can never hurt you,” people say. Oh, yes it can. It can get you into a lot of trouble and even cost you your life. I think that lying, when properly used, can even be seen as a social skill. It is certainly a first line of defence for the weak against the strong.

Since the “Day of the Sou’wester”, I have often had recourse to lies, always cautiously and never without a twinge of guilt. Looking back, I think I was right to do so most times and would do so again if the same case presented itself. The truth can be used to wound and lies can be used to heal. It is up to each of us, taught by experience of life, to know which to use and when.

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About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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10 Responses to Learning to lie

  1. athinkingman says:

    I found this interesting and slightly provocative, which is probably what you intended.

    I found myself disagreeing with you about the helpfulness of lieing, though I can see your argument. I suppose in some cases (though I would accept, not necessarily in all) a lie is a way of avoiding some reality, and my instincts are that it is probably better to face that reality (despite any short-term problem) rather than avoid it and often end up in deeper trouble.

    I fully accept that that kind of sophistication is unrealistic for a child. However, as an adult I often think that authenticity is the best policy, because of what it can foster, and because of the boost to self-esteem. In my framework, lies are about hiding, and I am not sure that that is a good thing. (Thoughts in progress.)

  2. Very interesting post.

    My first experience of lying was just like yours – I remember it well. I was not meant to cut through the woods on my way home from school but one day I was so fed up with going the long way round, that I did dash through the woods and when my mother asked me I found myself lying. And it felt fine! After that sometimes I would test myself and everyone else out, just telling unnecessary lies for the sake of it – the feeling intrigued me.

    But the key thing with lying is that you only tell those lies that are not going to be found out. If your mother had been best friends with the headteacher at your school, your lying would not have been quite so smart. I stopped the experimental lying, when my mother kept catching me out. I realised pretty quickly that if you lie and are found out then people find it hard to believe you subsequently plus you end up looking pretty stupid.

    So yes, I do lie. I try to only do it over very trivial things, to avoid trouble for myself or to save hurting others’ feelings ( When a friend asks “Do I look fat in this frock?” that sort of thing) but I do always first give serious consideration to whether I will be found out.

    But it is always braver to tell the truth I suppose!

  3. SilverTiger says:

    To athinkingman: Provocative, moi?

    To Reluctant Blogger: I agree that lies can be detected. The more complicated you make them, the more likely this is. There is an art to lying and some people are better at it than others. The key is simplicity.

    I think it is not only brave to tell the truth but sometimes foolhardy.

  4. I found as a timid child, lies were a good substitute for social skills. They were mostly an atempt to avoid confrontation. I will not use them now as it would be to admit the social superiority of anyone I converse with. If you find yourself telling lies as an adult you need to question not only yourself but the company you keep, i.e are they so over-bearing that I feel the need to do this ? But tell me I’m looking good for my age and you can hang around with me.

  5. emalyse says:

    Hmmm- my partner is unnervingly honest to an extent that often has me in a panic in public situations (remember the trip to see the camp comedian a while ago). I’m an honest person but I tend to see infinite shades of grey by default and had a few life lessons that taught me that not everybody handles the same truths in the same way so I indulge in cautious honesty which isn’t always embellished with raw detail sometimes. But it is that. Just caution arrived out through past experiences.White lies of convenience can sometimes be a wise move.

  6. SilverTiger says:

    To arnoldthemethodical: Flattery is the way to your heart, eh? 🙂 Well, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, I always say.

    I don’t think of anyone as being superior to me. It’s just that some people are more overbearing than others 🙂 Tigger has a word for such people. It begins with ‘k’ and ends with “head” 😉

    To emalyse: Yes, the term “white lie” should have come to mind when I was writing my piece. There are occasions when a white lie is appropriate.

    Some people are embarrassingly honest and reveal the – for me – most astonishingly frank details about themselves. Everything you would rather not know. Fortunately Tigger and I have more or less the same views on what is and is not appropriate to reveal to strangers.

  7. Big John says:

    I’ve told a few ‘porkies’ in my life , but usually only to save hurting someone’s feelings, like when asked … “Does my bum look big in this ?”.
    I do dislike lying, so I would never have made a politician.

  8. SilverTiger says:

    Politicians gave us the immortal phrase “to be economical with the truth”, so, yes, anyone who doesn’t want to lie (and we should remember that it is possible to tell the truth in such a way as to mislead) should not seek a career in politics.

  9. indignant2 says:

    When I read this, the bad memories came flooding back. In first grade, at school, I was the only girl whose mum had them wearing a grey sou’wester if it rained.

    • SilverTiger says:

      You’re not my long-lost sister by any chance, are you? 🙂

      Sorry for the bad memories. I hope they have faded with time. Parents don’t always realize the embarrassment they cause when trying to to do the best for kids.

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