When someone famous is involved in a murder, a scandalous extra-marital affair, stealing millions of dollars from unsuspecting investors, a drug overdose, a raving emotional explosion we watch, read, listen, and observe with enormous interest. For most, we view these incidents with a nearly voyeuristic glee since we are fairly certain we would never commit such indiscretions.
Right now the world is watching and wondering what the future holds for NBC’s Brian Williams, now suspended from his anchoring duties for 6 months without pay, all because of how he characterized the incidents surrounding that Chinook chopper he was on during the US invasion of Iraq. He has admitted ‘misremembering’ the events he reported on then and for years after, once soldiers came out publicly in the past few days and said his story simply wasn’t true.
Unlike a murder or any other on that list I mentioned above, what Williams may or may not have done embellishing his stories to make his role more prominent isn’t some far reaching atrocity that we can sit on the sidelines and claim we would never do. I acknowledge we don’t have Williams’ position or reach nor am I condoning how he’s dealt with this situation.
But we lie. Every day. Every one of us.
Before anyone gets ready to defend themselves with stories of impeccable honesty, here’s the truth. University of Massachusetts psychologist Robert S. Feldman, who’s been studying how people lie for decades, published a study in 2002 in the Journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology. And at the crux of his findings,
Most of us lie every 10 minutes? With not just a single lie, but two or three? That seems rather high.
Dr. Feldman says his experimental group was surprised as well. Here’s how he arrived at those findings.
He asked a group of 121 pairs of undergrads to talk to each other for 10 minutes. These were people who didn’t know each other trying to impress one another. After the session, everyone was allowed to see a video tape of their interaction, and each person was asked to inform Dr. Feldman whether anything they said during their conversations was inaccurate. The lies ranged from saying something they didn’t agree with to be likable, claiming to see a certain movie they’d never watched, to creating a totally false persona.
While the amount of lies by men and women was fairly consistent, Dr. Feldman says the type of lie differed,
Women were more likely to lie to make the person they were talking to feel good, while men lied most often to make themselves look better.
When does this all begin? Researchers say by the time a child is 4 years old, 90% are capable of lying. And according to an Institute of Child Study at the University of Toronto of 12-hundred children between the ages of 2-17,
Lying is, it turns out, an integral part of healthy brain development, known as ‘theory of mind.’ Briefly, theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one’s own.
While researchers encourage parents not to worry if their young child is lying, Super Nanny, yes, that Super Nanny, a.k.a Dr Victoria Samuel, does have some great advice on how to deal with your lying child.
Give your child the chance to make amends. For example, if you know they’ve not prepared their bag for school, don’t ask them: “Have you packed your bag?” (which just invites a lie). Instead, briefly describe the problem: “I noticed your bag isn’t ready.” Or better still, invite them to take responsibility: “Please show me your bag when it’s packed.”
For the record, lying isn’t a good thing. Dr. Feldman used his years of study to write The Liar in Your Life, and it isn’t an easy read.
There is no question mark at the end of this book’s title. There is a liar in your life. In fact, there are a lot of them. We encounter lies not only from the claims of presidents (“I am not a crook,” or, more recently, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”) or sleazy sales associates at the local car dealership (“This SUV gets terrific mileage!”); we also hear lies from the people we meet and interact with on a daily basis, including our family, friends, colleagues, and the strangers we encounter throughout our daily lives. Dishonesty is deeply engrained in our everyday interactions and in our broader culture.
Williams may be out there and exposed for everyone to point a finger at, and he’s paying the price. Yet inside every office, every classroom, every home, it’s not a matter of whether anyone is lying, but how much. And why? Why is it that I smile when certain lies are told, “Mom that was the best dinner ever, can I have the keys, I’ll be home by midnight,” and get very upset when a trusted friend tells me they can’t make it to an event because they’re ill only to find out they’re perfectly well and chose to do something else, like skiing, in Whistler.
For the moment, NBC is choosing to suspend Williams for six months without pay and not fire him. In a memo from NBC News President Deborah Turness,
We felt it would have been wrong to disregard the good work Brian has done and the special relationship he has forged with our viewers over 22 years. Millions of Americans have turned to him every day, and he has been an important and well-respected part of our organization.
Lois’ Living Through It blogs are posted on Mondays and Thursdays. Join her Monday mornings around 8:45am on Good Day Colorado.