Another kind of storytelling: Born Liars

You haven’t heard from him much lately, I know. But once upon a time (well, this theme is all about storytelling, right?), Mr BIP was a strong presence in these lands. Some of you might remember when he won a cheerleading award for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon, though lately he’s been reading more than cheering.

Nonetheless, he was a big supporter of the HOA45 plan as it was hatching this autumn, and he immediately volunteered to read one of their books himself to contribute to the project directly; Born Liars had a strong appeal and, indeed, I certainly want to read it myself now. (You can also click the cover image to follow a link to a video of the author speaking about his work.)

Thanks for jumping in with both feet, Mr BIP.

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Everyone dislikes a liar, right?

House of Anansi, 2011

Can you think of an instance in which introducing yourself as someone who frequently lies is going to work well for you?

Or in which someone you meet announces, before you even get to know them, that they have a history of being a liar?

Chances are you would actively avoid spending time with that person, never mind getting to know them.

But here’s the thing: we are all liars.

According to Ian Leslie’s research, this is true from the very early stages of life through adulthood.

“We exert our powers of deception virtually from birth: even babies seem to engage in pre-verbal forms of fakery.”

Wait: babies? Really?

Ever seen a baby in a high-chair throw a piece of food to the floor when they thought you weren’t looking? Yep.

Or around the age of two, one sibling smacks another in the presence of a parent only to bald-faced deny it? Absolutely. Your parents can probably conjure up a story or two about you on that score.

Leslie mentions that around four years of age you become aware that what’s in your head is not the same as what’s in someone else’s head. It’s then you come into your own, creating more sophisticated lies.

Some of our society’s belief systems revolve around truth and lies.

“The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So says Eve.

There’s a remark about the main character in that narrative from the author that really hits home as Eve points the finger of blame in the garden.

“But who is the deceiver in that story? Not the serpent. He just encourages the nice young couple to eat the fruit. If there’s anyone who actually tells a lie it’s Him. God tells Adam and Eve that the day they eat the apple, they will die. They do it anyway, but they don’t drop dead. God was being disingenuous, to say the least. And if God can’t do without deceit, which of us can?”

The moralities we face with telling the truth or not is not always a black-and-white matter, although some like Augustine would have you think so.

“He laid down two fundamental precepts: first, he defined a lie, with greater clarity than before as a ‘false statement made with the intention to deceive’. This is the imperfect but workable definition that most discussions of lying still use as a starting point. Second, he unequivocally pronounced lying as morally wrong, regardless of the context and without exception.”

Truth be told, there are many who would not agree with that statement.

Leslie has a way of pulling in the anecdotal with the facts that makes you want to read on. Some of the stories he used were great representations of the lengths to which we as a society/species have come to use lies to protect and move us forward as well as be our downfall.

Some of his findings are surprising. I, for one, have always thought of the polygraph as something that you would have a hard time beating (based on the number of movies I’ve watched!) – but, nope, it’s an older technology than I thought.

The idea that we think we’re better lie detectors than we imagine, and the fallibility of the machines we’ve sought out during the course of our history is interesting, and the most interesting part of this book was in learning how well we deceive ourselves. Not in terms of the relatively straight-forward lies about how thin you look in that dress or whether you’re a really great cook, but about the way in which our senses take information in on a second-by-second bases. It was astounding to learn how much stuff our brains make up, just so we don’t go mad trying to remember everything.

Sometimes we are such good self-deceivers as to convince ourselves we are better when we are. From generals in war, to athletes, to high-stakes business dealings. Our outlook on ourselves can greatly change the outcome of key situations, so the better we are at convincing ourselves we’re greater than we are, the more likely we are to succeed. (This, of course, has its limits.)

When I was a teenager, I came upon one of my favourite exchanges about lying, reading a fantasy series (I’d be lying if I said that I could remember exactly which book and when I read it). In introducing herself, a character says that there are two things you should know about her. First? That she lies all the time. And, second? Well, it doesn’t matter, because how could you trust it anyway.

For those who prefer a little history mashed up with stories and science, this book will have you placing a lot of markers in it for later consideration. No lie.

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Reading Project:
Day 39 of 45:
This is the fifth and final guest post for the HOA45 Reading Project. The other four were contributed by Sandra, who has, since, decided that a platform of her very own is irresistibly appealing (and who has, apparently, placed multiple orders with House of Anansi, since).



  1. Carl V. January 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    Book sounds intriguing. Of course this statement “God tells Adam and Eve that the day they eat the apple, they will die. They do it anyway, but they don’t drop dead. God was being disingenuous, to say the least. And if God can’t do without deceit, which of us can?” could bear a little more research by the author. In studying the meaning of the initial language and the context of the story God does not lie. It actually says “dying you will die” and not only points to the decay of the body (corruption of the Earth and all it holds began at that moment, if you believe the Bible) but also denotes the spiritual death that happened at that moment as man became separate from God and the need for blood atonement for sin began.

    Not to get all preachy, but the most cursory study would have shown the author that this was a poor example to use.

    But I do agree with the overall premise, we are born liars, that is for certain. And you see it start happening in kids at a VERY young age.

    • Buried In Print March 19, 2013 at 8:22 pm - Reply

      Ironically the example the author uses does show that language itself can be deceiving in all its various forms, whether written or spoken, raising the question of the writer’s/speaker’s intentions and the later interpretations and translations of them as well. Using biblical examples is great shorthand, in western culture at least, but of course how one reader responds to such citations is influenced by so many factors that each reader could likely write their own book on that subject alone.

      ::Signed Mr. BIP::

  2. Jackie (Farm Lane Books) January 3, 2013 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    I need to read this one! My son has Aspergers and so doesn’t lie like other children. I have to teach him which situations it is appropriate to lie in and have been amazed at how often we all do it. Thanks for drawing this one to my attention!

    • Buried In Print March 19, 2013 at 7:43 pm - Reply

      When you’re an adult it’s hard to remember what it was like to be a kid, I think, let alone whether we’ve lied and if we did it on a appropriate occasions. 🙂 Sometimes the truth does not always set you free.
      ::Signed Mr. BIP::

  3. Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis January 2, 2013 at 8:33 am - Reply

    I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by this book. 😉

    • Buried In Print March 19, 2013 at 7:44 pm - Reply

      It’s got a lot packed into it. I hope you’re able to at least sample some of it.
      ::Signed Mr. BIP::

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