Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fibs, Lies, and Hoaxes

When I was a young child, my parents called lies “fibs.”  If we fibbed, we were fibbers.  I remember the first fib I told.  My older brother had taken something of mine and would not return it.  He told our parents that the item was his, I’d given it to him, which was a fib.  In retaliation, I took his comb.  Now I don’t remember why his comb was so important to him, but it was.  When asked if I knew where his comb was, I fibbed.  Of course, I was found out, forced to return the comb and apologize to my older brother.  Such are the ties that bind siblings.

As young adults, fibs became “lies.”  There was the black lie and the white lie.  The first denoted a complete falsehood told to deceive.  The second spared the feelings of the white lie’s recipient or fudged the truth in order to keep the peace.  Honesty became an important and desirable quality in friends and lovers.  We laughed about how fluid the truth could be among politicians.  While working in advertising, I learned about verifying a claim with substantial evidence.  So when a guy I was dating claimed that he’d gone somewhere the previous weekend, I’d rattle off all the ways that I could verify his claim.  He usually confessed his “white lie” with the claim that he hadn’t wanted to hurt my feelings.  I’ve caught other people in lies, including myself.  Yes, don’t we all lie to ourselves at times?

Lance Armstrong finally came clean this week in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired on Thursday, January 17.  I’ve seen multiple long clips from this interview but not its entirety.  As I watched Armstrong’s demeanor, I wondered what he told his kids about ethical behavior and morals.  He claimed to not have considered his actions as wrong because doping was part of the bicycling as a competitive sport.  So why did he need to lie to the sport’s authorities, the anti-doping authorities, his competitors, friends and family if doping wasn’t wrong?  Using Armstrong's thinking, when teammates told authorities that Armstrong doped, they were the ones who were lying while actually telling the truth?  Armstrong would have needed to disconnect and compartmentalize his deception and deceptive behavior from the rest of his life in order to have lived with it for so long.  Or he has no conscience.  We know why he did it, of course: to win, to do something no one else had done before, to be the greatest.  He proved himself to be the greatest at deception.  Do we believe him now?

Another interesting story broke in the media this week that also raises questions about lies.  Notre Dame football star Manti T’eo has claimed to be the victim of an elaborate and year-long hoax perpetrated by friends back in his home state of Hawaii.  They used the internet to create a girlfriend identity for him and T’eo fell in love with her.  Apparently, for kids nowadays, they don't think about verifying someone's existence with something other than the internet.  Rather than own up to the hoax to end it, the perpetrators “killed off” the girlfriend, creating a plausible illness, leukemia, with an equally plausible end, death, and not just on any day, but the same day that T’eo’s grandmother died.  

(Anthony Nesmith/Cal Sport Media/

People who spend little time on the internet cannot understand how this hoax was possible, how T’eo could have fallen for it for so long.  Indeed, the interesting question is: when did T’eo learn that his online girlfriend had been a hoax?  For the year that T’eo thought he was involved with a real girlfriend, he talked about her, and to him, what he said was the truth.  But it was one big fat lie, perpetrated as a prank.  The real liars in this situation are the hoax perpetrators not T'eo, unless he was also one of the perpetrators.  I’m not sure I’d want such people in my life after being the victim of such a cruel hoax of their creation. 

It’s easy to lie.  American society makes it easier by rewarding creative and original deception rather than punishing it.  When faced with the possibility of telling a lie, we must choose honesty over the easy lie.  As all liars know, one lie must be supported by more and more lies until it’s impossible to remember which is truth and which is lie.  In the long run, it’s actually easier to choose honesty, easier on the brain and memory.

I was pleased that Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his Tour de France and Olympic medals, and now faces possible lawsuits, especially from the people he sued when they told the truth about him.  A just punishment.  What will happen to the Manti T’eo hoaxers?  They broke his heart and put him in a deeply embarrassing and humiliating position.  What would be an appropriate punishment for them?

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