Deception by
(87 Stories)

Prompted By Honesty

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Not steak. Photo credit: SparkRecipes.

I lied to my mother about how long I’d practiced the piano, figuring I’d make up for it before my lesson on Saturday. Besides, it was a little white lie, like when she served us liver and told us it was steak. My father lied to us when he said the spankings hurt him more than they hurt us. When he got cancer, his doctors lied to him about his prognosis and asked my mother to collude. After my father died, my mother remarried. She lied to us about how happy she was, then went to the neighbors’ house to cry.

The lies we told each other—and ourselves.

My teachers lied about the conquest of the west and the causes of the Civil War, and the principal lied about how much the school district could afford to pay them.

In the evening, on TV, we saw Southern senators filibuster the civil rights bill in the name of states’ rights, and we heard tobacco executives deny that cigarettes cause cancer. We watched Huntley and Brinkley report the Pentagon’s lies about the body counts in Vietnam and how well the war was going. Then we watched the president lie about why we were there. And we all desperately, desperately wanted to be deceived.

Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Wow, John, this is great! In three short paragraphs you manage to convey so much! Thank you for your insights!

  2. Marian says:

    John, this is a heartbreaking story of how dishonesty can have life-changing consequences for individuals and entire nations. Thank you for the courage to share it.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Thank you, John. in these few, succinct paragraphs, you beautifully captured all the lies that surround us — big and small, personal and political, harmless and devastating. And how often we want to be lied to. Bravo!

  4. Wow, John. That just about nails it all in three short ‘graphs! Really brought it home, how much and and at how many levels we’ve been lied to… our whole lives. I’d love to see you expand this!

    • John Zussman says:

      Charles, thanks for your kind words. It’s true that I could pretty much tell a whole story for each sentence in this one. In fact, I had originally chosen a featured image of Walter Cronkite reporting from Vietnam, to illustrate that part of the story, but it seemed to veer the whole story off in that direction.

      I’m going to leave it as is for now. But who knows what stories future prompts will evoke?

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Stunning how the little white lies accumulated into big ones told by public officials to keep us all in the dark. In short order, you effectively took us from childhood innocence to adult culpability with huge ramifications. You exposed our soft underbellies, John. Brilliant piece. Nice to have you back.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Very powerful statement about the lies, large and small, that govern our personal lives; the lies we are taught in school; and the lies we are fed by our political leaders. Thanks for sharing this, John.

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