For the last few weeks, I’ve been following two news stories, the Shafia trial and the sinking of the Costa Concordia, the way teenage girls follow the life of Justin Bieber. They’ve got me thinking about lying.
Now that I’m retired, lying isn’t something I normally give much thought to. There aren’t as many days filled with a need to dissemble, to flatter, to reassure, to deceive, to manipulate.
I mean, when I was married and my wife said, “Do you think I’ve put on weight?”, I knew better than to say yes. When I was young and idealistic, fresh from Confirmation, certain that God listened to my every word, I’d have said, “Yes.” God may see the little sparrow fall but I think he’s got better things to do than listen to me prevaricate.
That was in the days when I’d been conned into believing that the Ten Commandments said “Thou shall not lie.” They don’t say any such thing. They say you shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” It doesn’t say anything about having to tell your boss that yes, that striped jacket makes her look like a zebra. That’s not bearing false witness against a neighbour. The Bible doesn’t say anything about having to commit suicide. As a matter of fact, Christian doctrine says no committing suicide. That’s not in the Ten Commandments, either. It came about because the promise of heaven to a bunch of desperate Roman slaves caused so many of them to commit suicide that the church had to come up with the idea that even though, on the one hand it promised heaven, it was a sin to rush to get there. They made it a sin. Sort of like pushing and shoving in the checkout line at Costco.
If you’d killed three of your daughters, or three of your sisters, and an extra wife or mother, what would you say if the cops asked you if you did it? Yup, I did. I cannot tell a lie. I don’t want to cause the Canadian taxpayer a lot of money investigating and having a trial. There’s nothing worse than lying. A man can’t have any honour if he doesn’t own up to what he’s done. Give me the cuffs.
Or how about Captain Schettino? Be fair, ask yourself, if you’d taken your parent’s car out for the evening, the car that cost 459,000,000 Euros, and totaled it, what would you say when you talked to your father on the cell? It’s okay, Dad, it’s not all that bad. It’ll be fine. It’s got a few dents but I think a little body work will make it better. I think the electrical system is damaged. Yes, Dad, I was distracted. Just remember when you were my age, and if there was this hot Moldovan dancer in the sea beside you, wouldn’t you have wanted to show off a little, wouldn’t you have got distracted a little? Be reasonable. All right, all right, I won’t ask to borrow the boat, ah car, ever again.
I mean, in that first phone call would you have said to the Costa Concordia boss, I’ve just ripped a fifty foot hole in the hull of your ship, it is sinking, passengers are panicking, we’re tipping over. I don’t know how far over! A little bit. I’m going to get in a lifeboat and move away from the ship so I can calculate the angle. I’ll call you after I get some dry socks.
I would have lied. I would have lied a lot more than the captain. I would have said, you want to talk to Schettino? I’ve never heard of him. I would have got rid of my captain’s clothes, not just my wet socks, and put on some civvies from one of the passenger’s cabins. Even if it was an evening dress.
The problem with Schettino and the Shafia’s isn’t just that their names begin with S but that they were terrible liars. Schettino, at least, had the excuse that everything happened pretty fast. He didn’t have time to prepare. It’s not like he planned to drive the ship onto the rocks and had a couple of weeks to get his story straight.
The first rule of a good liar is to lie as little as possible. Lies trapped in the jello of truth often get swallowed whole. Second, when you tell a lie, tell it in a misleading way. Yes, I’m in a life boat but I’m here because I’m calculating the angle of the tilt you wanted. The other thing to do is tell people what they want to hear. If the Shafias had gone back to Afghanistan and dumped their daughters into the river and said they must have had an accident, no one would have asked any questions. That’s what they’d have wanted to hear. The Shafias got mixed up. They thought they were still in Afghanistan.
One of the biggies is telling everybody the same story. Keep your facts straight. Neither the captain nor the Shaffias kept their facts straight. The captain was on board, then he wasn’t on board, then he was on the ship at the same time that he was on the dock searching for dry socks. The Shaffias were at the locks, then they weren’t at the locks, then they were all at the motel but the manager says they only booked rooms for six which is four less than ten, the number of women found in the lock. You can just hear Shaffia saying, “But I just knew those rebellious girls would take the car and drown themselves. Can I help it if I’m psychic?”
Good liars are good manipulators. They’ll use anything they can to distract someone questioning them. One favorite trick is to flirt, if you’ve got something to flirt with. Schettino might still manage to escape most of the blame because of his good looks. The Shaffia’s, not so much.
What we’ve had recently are examples of bad lying, not bad as in evil but badly done. To see good lying, not good as in moral but as in successful, we need to observe people who are successful. Politicians, bank presidents, CEOs. The prisons are filled with bad liars. Good liars are rich or at least they’re not in jail.