Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
Thus spake Benjamin Disraeli, and Mark Twain liked the phrase so much that he immortalized it in his Chapters from My Autobiography in 1907.

Mothers know there are all sorts of lies. The lies we hear and the lies we tell. How often have you said "I'm not angry because you did x. I'm angry because you lied about it."

Be honest. You're angry about both. But the lying does make you mad in a different sort of way.

Portland Tribune published a thoughtful piece recently in response to the uproar over Mayor Sam Adams fallacious (fellatious?) statements. You’re a Liar! (But aren’t we all?) Profound lies and little fibs gain public acceptance provides some pretty interesting food for thought.

My family and I've become addicted to a new television show, Lie to Me. I'm surprisingly crazy about Tim Roth, the actor who plays the lead. I'm pretty confident my friend Rachel Fox would categorize him as another of those not conventionally good looking guys. But he is compelling. He mesmerizes in an understated way. I find him oddly babe-licious.

The premise is that non-verbal clues can identify liars. That we involuntarily give ourselves away. It's not a foolproof science. But it is often accurate to analyze and judge based on micro facial expressions, shrugs, and countless other body language gestures. The scripts are exceptionally well written, with interesting characters and ongoing subplots. Illustrative photos of real world liars (Clinton protesting he "did not have sex with that woman," Sarah Palin saying, well, anything) are fascinating.

In one of the episodes, Roth's character Cal Lightman is dealing with his teenaged daughter, who has lied to him. Later, one of his colleagues tells her that her father knew she was lying but he didn't challenge her because he didn't think he should do that each time she tried to conceal something. You can see the clip for yourself at the entry dated February 4th, “A Perfect Score” - Kids Lie to Parents? And if you're feeling really ambitious, check out the newsletter mentioned below the clip. Lie To Me's scientific advisor Paul Ekman, Ph.D., breaks down the real science in each episode. Billed as "the world's foremost expert on facial expressions," he offers some advice to parents on what to consider when they suspect their child is lying.

Hmm. Interesting. As parents, we usually expect full disclosure from our children, but as healthy (in other words, not Norman Bates) adult children, we understand that sometimes we not only desire, but require privacy about our affairs from our parents' scrutiny. When do we make that transition, where it's acceptable not to have to tell the folks all our bidness?

Tell me what you think.

But please don't lie to me.


Kathryn Magendie said...

I had to laugh as I read this - my brother Johnny used to sniff every time he lied! For the longest time I didn't tell him how i knew he was lying - finally, when we were older, I said, "Johhny! You sniff everytime you tell a lie!" it got to be a joke between...teehee.

Beck said...

I try not to press my kids about things that I think they don't want to share - but they're very open children and I read them pretty well, too. So it hasn't been an issue for us yet.
Straight out lying, though? Like blaming someone else for somethign they did? I call them on that.

momiji said...

We don't like our kids lying for a reason: we're scared for them. If the kid lies, that means he has done something for which he will be punished or yelled at, and if a parent needs to punish his kid, that means the kid did something bad or wrong. We are afraid that they would do something that we won't be able to fix, create a situation where we won't be able to help - so we want a 100 percent transparency on everything they do and even think. When they grow up, lying starts meaning "I have my own life now, my private life" - something parents accept with difficulty even though they perfectly understand that it is normal. But it is always hard to see your kid grow up and go away.

You wrote: "... non-verbal clues can identify liars. That we involuntarily give ourselves away" - I read an interesting scientific article some time ago that said that people give themselves away with those involuntary gestures because our unconscious self does not like to lie, so we actually want to be found out no matter the consequences. So deep it is in us, that those non-verbal clues are extremely hard to overcome :)

As to Tim Roth, I absolutely adore this actor for some years now. I think he has a big talent and a powerful personality - he truly does mesmerize. I've never heard about this show you mention, so I'll try to find it - I'm really interested. Thanks for speaking about it!

Fantastic Forrest said...

Kathryn - did Johnny sniff when he was bluffing while playing poker? This could be quite a profitable observation...

Beck - I'm with you, lady. The blame transfer thing is something none of us moms want them to carry over into adulthood, for sure!

Momjii - You're so right. What's the magic age, I wonder, where we can be okay with less transparency? I mean, I suppose it differs from child to child depending on maturity, but is there a general range, do you think?

Even in Paris, you can watch Lie to Me thanks to the miracle that is - Hurray! The first episode is at

stephanie (bad mom) said...

First of all - MmmmMMm, Mr. Orange. I enjoy Tim Roth, too. :D

A student was just telling me about this show since we played a game about lying and body language in our speech class. Must check it out.

I need to ruminate more on the kids lying thing...Will get back to you.

phd in yogurtry said...

I wish I believed that any liar can be found out, but not true. Ask anyone working with sex offenders. They lie their tails off and can be quite charismatic in the meantime. Hate that.

As for our kids, I believe the "acceptable" lies (not to be confused with pleasing or condoned) are those which safeguard developmentally appropriate intimacies. The private realm that we adults guard so securely.