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Truth: rarely pure and never simple

If you ask Persistence how old she is, she'll tell you she's five. She can't quite bring herself to say six, her sister's age. Is it because her sister holds a claim to that number right now, or is it an inherent talent for hyperbole---knowing exactly where the line is that she shouldn't cross?

On Saturday at a party several of us were laughing with a neighbor, my friend's husband, and he was spinning yarns about his upcoming trip to Italy.

"You need to learn how to lie, Jack," I said, "You go one step past believable. If you'd said you were biking from Paris to Florence, some of us might have partially believed you. But walking?" And we all laughed harder.

"Maybe it's intentional," he told me, "I get in trouble for teasing, so I try to make sure I'm way over the top upfront so nobody even starts to believe me."

Someone reminded me that I must be a very good liar because everyone thinks I'm truthful. I am an excellent liar. World class. Gold medal. I began lying at a very early age. I had to. Then I just never figured out how to be truthful. No, that's not true. I figured out that generally people don't want you to be truthful.

And because I'm contrary, I then switched over to often being truthful.

What's truth, anyway? It's not necessarily honesty, which doesn't preclude lying.

My family has me pegged as the Queen of Hyperbole. When I was a tween or early teen, we drove to Portland to visit my older stepbrother and sister, who had gone to college there and never came back. If you go to Portland, it's easy to see why. But this trip was close to when Mount St. Helens had erupted, and we hiked up Oregon's sister mountain to watch the plumes of smoke still puffing from the shattered crater.

"We hiked to less than a mile from the top," I said later, retelling the story to some people who hadn't gone with us, "And it was so clear, you could see it right in front of you, huge, and smoking, like an angry dragon." The smoke was lighter than I expected, and I waxed more poetically than prosaically about it.

My stepsister couldn't stand it. None of my siblings can. Their life goal with me is to make me prosaic. It's ironic, because in artistic circles I am considered very prosaic and practical. But not in my family, who believe themselves the Snopes to my myths.

My stepsister rolled her eyes and sighed, "Oh Juuuulllllliieeeeee, you make it sound like so much more than it was. We drove to the top parking lot and barely hiked a couple of miles at the most. You could see some smoke but there was nothing dragon-like to it."

Even today, whatever rolls from my lips is suspect and put through the family truth v. doubt-o-meter.

I want to teach my children to not exaggerate when it's not needed, but I also want to foster their strong and deep imaginative streak. Nevertheless, I find, horribly, Snope-like criticisms frogging their way off my tongue anyway.

Yesterday I told Patience, "That's showing off. Don't do things to try to impress people. Just make good choices in life, do your best, be yourself, and that will be impressive enough to the right people."

She had been hamming to get a laugh from the crowd. My insides turned to molten lava when I saw.

She did switch to making good choices, but I worried about her motive: was it to appease and please me, or to do the right thing? Will she make the right choices when my back is turned, at least most of the time, at least when it really matters? Or will she lie in her bed at night, regretting behavior over the course of the day, filled with the bitter reflux of self-loathing?

Can I ever be easy as a parent?

My lack of ease extends to her sister's lying, as well. Persistence lies for many reasons, but she does it easily, often, well and earlier than her sister did. She is very sincere when she tells people she is five. She will not budge from that position.

She is learning her letters and lying, which her sister did at five.

So what is truth?

Note: This Hump Day about truth, honesty and lying---yourself, your kids, from a personal or parenting point of view, how you deal with it and how important it is, as well as loopholes or any other aspect you want to cover.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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Sukhaloka said…
"What is truth?"

Don't even get me started. It's the burning question of the moment.
But I simply have to link you to this post. Major angst yes, but the last paragraph seems horribly true to me too.
Mad said…
"hamming it up to please the crowd."

Nothing wrong with that IMHO. It's why I have a blog.
Gwen said…
The exaggeration thing, that's an interesting one to me. My husband uses hyperbole a lot, and on the one hand, it's simply colorful. But on the other hand, the exaggerated truth becomes a part of what he believes and what he argues over, so it's more than just not letting a good story suffer for the lack of few facts.
Liv said…
I, oh, JP, that really was a brilliant post. I may have to get down on this topic. Really.
We have an issue with my eldest lying about small, insignificant things. And the littlest one is now following suit.

It drives me crazy.

Although I do see that it is a way for them to test the waters, their boundaries and even their smarts.

But it still drives me batty.

Unknown said…
impeccable timing, my friend - were you at our house this weekend?
Kyla said…
I think YOU should be doing my philosophy homework. It could be a paid writing gig. I kid, I kid. But really, you have a knack for it.
Girlplustwo said…
what is truth? excellent question and i love that your girls are lying b/c mine is lying too. oh wait, i don't. and yet here i am.
jeanie said…
Oh I love how you encourage me to think!

What is truth? And where do we draw the line, especially as parents who want our children to be liked and talented and popular and honest and happy and survivors...

And then you get into the whole spectrum - white lies, whoppers, tall tales and fantasty. What fun and what a scary concept.

Looking forward to tomorrow.
Robert said…
I can empathize with the problem of hyperbole and embellishment. I have a habit of using hyperbole in casual conversation, but I tend to prefer accuracy to embellishment when telling a story because so often the truth is more fascinating than making something sound too much like a movie script. I know it annoys me when people are telling a story about something I experienced and they share something I know to be untrue. That's probably why I do my best to focus on honesty and accuracy in general.
I have taken to telling Junior Mayhem that I can see a blue dot on his head when he is lying. While he can be often seen searching for said dot in the is yet to stop his fibbing ways!
Amie Adams said…
I feel like I'm following the Queen everywhere today.

Good Hump Day Hmmm. I'll have to think about this.

Lately, I've been focusing on the pay-offs for following the rules. Seems like there aren't any consequences for not doing so. As a semi-rule follower, that pisses me off.
I tell my daughters to write down all their tall tales.

Then their lies and hyperbole become poetry.

Sometimes, the dragon is what is really there, and the light smoke means it is only snoozing.

But then again, I'm one for reviving the tooth fairy, so maybe I'm not the one to ask. :-)
Melissa said…
I'm always have to tell Thing 1 (the one that wrote the story) to save the embellishments for his writing, not conversation.

Great idea for HDH. Here's hoping I can deliver. :)
atypical said…
My comment to the Drama King last night at bedtime: When you try to convince other people that your joking is really truth, that is lying - even if his voice WAS dripping with such obvious sarcasm that his jest was obvious.

Sometimes I feel like I am a mean old ogre trying to smash my children's imaginations. Other times I feel guilty for letting them play with the boundary lines.

I love this post.

Christine said…
i worry because my girl doesn't lie. or she lies so well i have no idea what i'm getting into. . .
My daughter, 5, has attempted to lie several times, but she flicks her eyes away in this totally guilty manner. I hope she continues to suck at it.
Anonymous said…
Both my kids are brilliant storytellers - I like to think that the tall part of their tales are an effort to tell a good story. But knowing when that's cool, creative and even funny - and when it's just a fib - is the critical line to draw.

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