My Little Lie

Slice-Cherry-Pie-SJust as I was settling in to watch the evening news, my wife yelled from the kitchen.

“Hey you!“

When she addresses me like that, I know I am in just as much trouble as when my mother called me by my full name.

“Who ate the last of the pie?” she demanded to know.

In times like this, denial is the best route.

“Not me,” I told her.

“Then who?”

I pointed to the cats, who were looking conveniently guilty.

In response, she pointed to a dirty pie plate in the sink.“Uh-huh and who left that there?”

Again, I pointed to the cats.

“Don’t lie…”

“Must I be honest?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, ask again,” I told her.

“Who ate the pie?”

“It wasn’t me.”

“You are incorrigible.”

“Yet you still trust me.”

“I do, but I don’t know why.”

Which raises some interesting questions.

The first time I thought deeply about trust, I was tagging along with my father while he went shopping for a car. We had just stepped onto a notorious used car lot, when a guy in a plaid sports jacket clamped an arm around my father’s shoulder and pointed at a weary old station wagon.

“She’s a runner,” he proclaimed.

I was only in second grade but I could spot oil leaks, bald tires and rust with the best of them. I didn’t believe a word coming out of his mouth.

“Dad,” I said once the salesman was out of earshot, “do you believe that guy?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because he doesn’t lie about the important stuff.”

That struck me.

Not long after, I overheard my parents talking about an election.

“You can’t trust that guy,” my mother said.

“Why?” my father asked.

“Because he tries too hard to be sincere,” she said.

The guy won and mom was right.

That struck me too.

How can people trust someone who is obviously lying and not trust someone who is obviously sincere?

The answer is in our head.

The human brain evolved not to understand reality, but to survive it.

Reality comes at us too hard, too fast and with too much detail to comprehend. So we reduce the incomprehensible into simple stories that seems truer than actual, authentic truth.

It is the essence of fiction. Something that comedian Steven Colbert coined as truthiness.

And on a subconscious level we know we do this, so we constantly evaluate the veracity of truthiness.  Do people who lie about the little things, also lie about the big things?  Can we trust people who tell the easy truths with the difficult ones?

It is a critical skill and absolutely vital for watching the evening news.

Soon after my wife had joined me on the couch, a sincere young man with an expensive haircut and an impressive blue suit breathlessly proclaimed, “BREAKING NEWS”.

“I don’t know if I trust him,” my wife remarked.

“Why?”

“He’s too slick.”

“Oh, I trust him,” I tell her.

“Really?”

“Yeah, he is just reading a teleprompter – so I trust that he is reading it correctly, but…”

“But what?”

“I certainly wouldn’t trust someone that slick with a piece of pie.”

She sighed. “A lot of people are like that.”