It seems like an open season on liars these days, with so many of them shot down and exposed by the media -- and often by postings on the social media. This got me wondering: Why do people keep lying, given the high likelihood of being exposed by the relentless 24-7 coverage by just about anyone who might suspect someone for anything or is out for revenge or glory by exposing a lie? We live in a fishbowl today, where there is little privacy, so it's easier than ever to expose a lie. As a result, if the liar or victim of the lie is well-known or the lie is big, bold, or unique enough, it will soon be national news. So why do people keep lying given the threat of being exposed in a lie and the danger of lying -- because ultimately lies undermine trust in a relationship and they break down the glue that holds society together? And what can we as a society do about the problem of lyng -- a problem that has gotten far more pervasive since I first wrote about this in The Truth About Lying 15 years ago...
The story that got me thinking about this situation was what started out as a local lie when a masked robber, 33-year old David Randall Lacey, was about to rob a Papa John's pizza place in Helena, Montana. But when he saw there was only $25 in the register and the waitress began to hand it to him, he broke down crying and gave the waitress a sob story about how he resorted to crime so he could feed his wife and hungry kids. So the waitress felt sorry for him and gave him a free pizza. But later when the police arrested him for felony robbery, the whole story about a wife and kids turned out to be a lie, and the story of the lie and his arrest went national. Apparently, Lacey was discovered by the police after he talked about the incident, and the waitress picked him out of a police line-up. After admitting the crime, he explained he committed the robbery to feed himself.
After that, I started thinking about all of the other liars whose stories were recently blazed in national headlines. One was the American Idol hopeful, 26-year old Matt Farmer, who claimed he was injured in Iraq from an IED explosion, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury, and the medication he was given was supposed to make him sterile. Six months later, his daughter was born, and he described her as a "miracle baby." However, he never was injured in an explosion. The truth came out when his roommate came forward and reported that Farmer was med-evacuated from Iraq, because he got drunk while taking accutane, an acne medication, and he was never involved in a single direct fire engagement and was never wounded. Several other former comrades wrote to the veterans website claiming Farmer was a liar, too.
Then, there's Manti Te'o story, in which the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football player developed feelings for a girlfriend he met online and engaged in long phone conversations with her for about a year. But after she supposedly died, Deadspin an online media site, broke the story that his girlfriend wasn't real. Instead, Ronaiah Tuiasaopo was revealed to have created the alternate persona Lennay Kekua, which allowed him to live an alternative reality, because he wanted to escape from real life since he was molested as a child, as he told Dr. Phil McGraw on the Dr. Phil Show.. And to perpetrate the hoax, he used the picture of a woman Diana O'Meara he found online on her Facebook account to represent Lennay. But eventually, the whole story came out, with mea culpas from everyone involved, from the hoaxer to the hoaxed to the school and the journalists who originally bought the story.
Then there's the story of how Lance Armstrong kept a lie about his doping going for about a decade, until he was ultimately found out and confessed the whole sorry story on Oprah. Or did he really confess? There was some debate after his two-part confession as to whether he was really being sincere or faking much of the interview.
In short, this seems like the day and age of exposing liars, given the ease of global communication and the ability to find out about people who have little privacy anymore should anyone come looking for anything. Yet, people continue to lie, perhaps thinking that somehow, they will get away with it and the increasingly likely exposé won't happen to them. But it often does, upsetting everyone affected by the lie and playing out in the media, like the Scarlet Letter, exposing the liar to national and international shame, commonly followed by the liar's search for forgiveness through the global media confessional. It's like today's repeated morality play, reminding us that lying is wrong, even as people continue to lie, and more and more people are exposed for doing so.
So what should we as a society do about this? It seems to me that we need another re-commitment to truth and honesty, and potential liars need to realize that in this time of instant media exposure and infamy, they are increasingly likely to be caught by someone who can turn their private act into a very public one on the international stage. Then, just maybe, there will be less lying - or perhaps the liars may become even more sophisticated in hiding their lies.
Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing. She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her company Changemakers Productions Her latest books include: The Very Next New Thing: Commentaries on the Latest Developments that Will Be Changing Your Life and Living in Limbo: From the End to New Beginnings