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Many people would readily opine that to exaggerate is not the same as to lie. To them, the difference is assumed to be quite obvious. Ask them to define that difference, however, and it becomes immediately apparent that no rational definition can be found. And when no rational defense can be made for a paradigm, it’s time to drop it!
Here’s an easy-to-understand proof that exaggeration is lying.
Let us consider the case of Billy at his 20-year high school reunion. Billy makes exactly $50,000 a year at his job, but he wants to impress his old friends, so he tells them that he makes “over a million dollars” a year.
Is this a lie?
Yes, it is. And interestingly, most people would probably say that it is. Even if Billy doesn’t think it’s a lie, any of his former classmates who discovered that he makes only $50K would feel that they had been deceived. It is a lie, indeed.
Please raise your hand if you agree with me so far.
Now, is it still a lie if Billy tells his old classmates that he makes $750,000 a year? (Remember, the truth is that he makes exactly $50,000.)
Yes, it’s still a lie.
Now what if Billy tells them he makes $500,000 a year? Is that still a lie? Yes it is. Not that the difference matters, but $500,000 is ten times more than what Billy actually makes.
And what if Billy only claims to make $100,000? That, too, is a lie, for it is not true. Billy makes exactly $50,000.
Are you with me so far?
So what if Billy says $60,000? Or what if he says “in the high fifties”? Or what if he says $55,000? Would each of these figures be a lie, too?
Yes, each one of them is a lie. Right?
So here’s your test: If Billy tells them that he makes $50,001 a year, is that a lie, too?
Why yes, it is.
Now if you still believe that exaggeration is not the same as lying, please tell us how much Billy can increase his actual salary figure of $50,000 before he is “lying”.
A Good Test
Here’s a good test of whether you’re lying or not. A typical affirmation at the bottom of a legal document might say something like this:
I certify that this is a true and accurate report, to the best of my knowledge and belief.
When you tell people things, do you both know and believe them to be true?
If not, you’re lying, for you state things as if they are true, even when you know or believe that they are not.
A Little Practice
So let’s practice a little bit, eh?
Imagine that you’re returning home from a crowded party at a friend’s house. Someone in your family asks you, “How many people were there?” You answer, “There must have been a hundred.”
But how do you know there must have been 100? Did you count them? If not, then how do you know?
The better answer would have been, “I didn’t count, but it seemed really crowded to me.” You could even go so far as to estimate the number, but only if you actually think through what you remember seeing. You might say, “There could have been 30 or 40 people, or there could be far more than that; I wasn’t paying close enough attention to have a good estimate.”
This is how honest people think.
I don’t mean to suggest that exaggeration is always out of place. I think it has a natural home in humor. For example, if I want to stress that a certain relative is really old, it seems to work just fine to tell folks that he’s about a hundred and seventy five years old. Everyone knows I’m not serious, and in cases where the actual number is not important, the humor is no distraction at all.
Humor ought not be used as an excuse, however, when the real intention of the exaggeration is to deceive.
When Temptations Arise
When I find myself not wanting to tell the truth, it is tempting to deceive. For example, when a nosy person is asking about personal details that are none of his business, and about which I expect him to give unwanted advice if I answer his questions, it is tempting to find an easy way out of the situation. I could simply lie with an answer that I imagine would satisfy the person’s standards, but if I do that, I have compromised myself. Why should I undermine my own character simply to be rid of a nuisance? Shall I become a chameleon, changing colors as needed to avoid bothersome people and situations? I don’t think so.
I find it much better to be honest and to confront the inappropriate question. “I don’t want to discuss that with you,” is a much better response, or even the sharper retort, “That’s none of your business.”
Lying To Oneself
I’ve lately made quite a study of the psychology of rational (reality-based) thinking. One of my particular interests is how people manage so often to abdicate their natural roles as the guardians of what goes into and comes out of their own minds, carelessly adopting and promoting various un-realities. Here’s an article on that topic.
Chances are, we all lie tend to lie to ourselves about some number of things. Ours is a culture in which such things are common and are even encouraged. Even if we are not actively lying, but are simply mistaken, we are generally mistaken about a great number of things. Unfortunately, it simply isn’t fashionable in our society to care enough to get all our facts straight. And what a shame that is, for between where we stand and the impossible infinity of perfection, there lies a much improved middle ground that is quite attainable if only we would try!
Is exaggeration lying?
Is exaggeration the same thing as lying?
Is it lying to exaggerate?
Are you lying when you exaggerate?
Is exaggerating the same as telling a lie?
Are you lying if you exaggerate?
Why exaggerating is the same as lying
Why exaggerating is telling a lie
Exaggeration is lying