Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Power of a Lie

My bathroom scale has learned a new trick. I step on it, fully clothed, which I often do because I want the bad news first. Frequently I'm shocked by the number, but I'm prepared for that. I step of the scale and start shedding clothing, so as to achieve miracle weight loss and minutes, thus making myself feel better about the number, even though it's higher than it should be. Then I step back on the scale, and, if everything is working as it should, the number has gone down as much as two pounds, and I step off, satisfied. Only recently, the on this second weigh-in, the scale tells me that I have actually GAINED weight in the process of shedding matter from my body! I know this can't be true and there is only one explanation. The scale is LYING to me in order to intentionally hurt me.

I blame myself, a little. I taught the scale how to lie. When I don't like what I see on the scale, I fiddle with it, trying to adjust the number in order to lie to myself. The best method that I have found is to place the scale on the edge of the bathroom rug so that the front of the scale hangs over the edge and the scale rests at an angle. This results in the loss of at least a pound. However, in doing this, I am demanding that the scale lie to me regarding my actual weight, and it appears that the scale has grown accustomed to it and has started lying of its own free will. I have unwittingly created a sentient being!

Thanks to my mom and countless episodes of Saved by the Bell, I was aware that a lie is "a dangerous thing" and that it can get "out of control" and take on "a life of its own". I just wasn't aware that these cautions were literal. I always thought they were a figurative interpretation of the truth. I didn't know that in making my scale tell lies I was actually giving it a life of its own.

I had always considered statements like "a lie is a dangerous thing" implicit permission to stretch the truth, in that these statements themselves were not literally true. (Is is really dangerous? Will it poke someone's eye out? Will I cut myself on its edges? Should I always be careful to point the lie away from people?) I have found lying to be a very useful thing over the years. A lie gives you the power to do something that you know you should do, but can't manage to do with truth alone. For example, I over-schedule myself, and I know I should say no, when people ask me to do things, but only a lie gives me the power to do this. They never ask "do you want to come into work Friday morning and finish this project for A.B." The truth would work for me on that one. No, I don't want to come in Friday morning. Instead, they ask "can you come in Friday morning and finish the project." The truth is that yes, I can physically come in Friday morning and finish the project. It doesn't matter that I've worked more hours this week than you're planning to pay me for or that I have a major presentation to give on Monday and I was counting on Friday morning to go to the library and do my research. If I limit myself to the truth, I have to say yes. A lie, however, lets me say, "No, I'm booked solid all day Friday" (Translation: I'm going to sit in my bed in my pajamas and work on my presentation.)

I've also found lies to be a source of motivation. About a week ago, my brother asked if I can be ready for a forty-five mile bike ride with him in a couple of weeks. The truth is that no, I won't be ready. I haven't ridden my bike in ages. In fact, I've been doing the opposite of riding my bike; I've been sitting on my butt reading. But that's not what I told him. In fact, that's the opposite of what I told him. I told him, sure, of course, why wouldn't I be ready to ride forty-five miles. This was a lie, but in two weeks, I will be at a starting line at 8:00 in the morning, ready to go. My lie committed me to doing something that will probably be a painful shock to my body, but it will be good for me and it will allow me to share an experience with my brother that I will be thankful for later. Had I told him the truth, I would have missed out.

Finally, lies can be a great and unending source of entertainment. I have constructed elaborated lies about all of my friends. I have invented incredible "how we met" stories involving cactus farms, fictional middle eastern countries, and photographic expiditions to the south pole. I have exaggerated and embellished stories about them that I can tell when we're all together and remembering old times. Did MO really throw RC all the way through the window of our apartment? No. Did A.W. really almost burn the apartment to the ground when we were burning her ex-boyfriend's letters? No. Did J.H. really frighten all of Applebee's with the noises he made eating he chocolate dessert? Probably not. But it's more fun that way. A lie can capture the spirit of a moment that the truth can't.

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