Sometimes a lie is more like the truth

Abraham Lincoln said that “[n]o man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.”  I don’t know if that’s true.  Not necessarily about any man having a good enough memory; I don’t know if lying is a memory thing at all.  Do liars have better memory? It seems like more of a creativity thing.  I do think it helps to be bright, but I think it helps more to have a good imagination.  And it helps to believe.  Because a lie repeated, and clung to with conviction, can become more compelling than any truth ever was.

I told a lot of lies as a teenager.  I can admit that now.  Of course, a liar should never admit to being a liar, at least not at the time he is doing the lying, because then what good are his lies?  No, to be a liar with any hope of success, you must be able to convince people of at least the one lie that you are not a liar, otherwise the jig is up.  Maybe I was a liar as a teenager and maybe I wasn’t.  Was I lying then or am I lying now?

The funny thing about lying, and memory, is that the best lies are the ones so elaborate and compelling, told so consistently, that over time, the line between what actually happened and what you have convinced people to believe has happened becomes blurred.  Eventually, even to yourself.  Like those teenage years, I have a lot of memories, but which ones relate to what actually happened and which to those I decided to pretend had happened, who could ever tell?  Certainly not I.

I think good lying requires a good nerve, too.  In Rome, they have this image carved in marble called “La Bocca Della Verità,” or “The Mouth of Truth.”  Legend has it that if you put your hand in the image’s mouth, and tell a lie, it will be bitten off.  Telling a lie when the worst that being caught will bring you is a week of grounding or a half-hearted spanking, so be it.  Losing an appendage, no thanks.  I never had the guts (probably not coincidentally, there during those same teenage years).

But maybe I am going about Lincoln’s adage all wrong.  The best liars I have ever known were not men at all, but women.  Maybe that’s what he was getting at.  Are women better liars?  Or are they only better when lying to men?  Or only better when lying to me?  Do they have better memories?  Or just more powers of persuasion/deception?  I wonder.

8 thoughts on “Sometimes a lie is more like the truth

  1. Have you read any Primo Levi? He did some fascinating writing about memories and how stories change. Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World also gets into this in a very good way.

    • I have, some even in the original Italian. Insightful. He reminds me a lot of Viktor Frankl (the book I remember best of Levi’s reminded me a lot of Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning). I will have to check out Sagan.

  2. I see this is between the two of you but somehow I feel upon this post and it’s very interesting to me. Likewise, I was a fabulous teenage/college age liar probably due to my rigid Catholic upbringing mixed with my large sense of mischief. You gotta believe it yourself until, in your mind, it’s true or could be. Oh, the wicked webs we weave and I was/am creative with a very good memory so therefore, I was darn good at it.

    Women are better liars; with men it’s much easier. We can make you believe, or want to at least. So you actually help the process along. Fun post!

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