Little Larcenies, White Lies, and Truthiness by
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(45 Stories)

Prompted By Honesty

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I grew up watching George Reeves play Superman on television in the 1950s. The show’s introduction, forever imprinted in my mind, told me that heroic Superman “fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.” My parents reinforced this lesson, lecturing my brothers and me on the importance of honesty in all things. Imagine my shock as a kid when I saw them throw a set of luggage into the rising waters flooding our basement.

Thus, I came to believe in truthiness in politics, a term coined by Stephen Colbert in 2005, which meant, “The quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.”

When I asked why they were doing this, my never-tell-a-lie parents explained that they needed new luggage and now the insurance company would pay for it. This was my first encounter with the little larcenies that were considered acceptable, even to my father who was honest to a fault in his job as an accountant. The deception was fair in their opinion because they paid for insurance year after year. I guess from the perspective of someone who has paid homeowner’s insurance premiums for 45 years and has made only a couple of claims, this makes some sense to me. But as a kid, it was my first inkling that even my parents weren’t always honest.

My mother also schooled me in the importance of little white lies. Not being honest to avoid hurting someone’s feelings was considered good manners. Tell your friend you like her dress, even if you hate it. Compliment a classmate on doing a great job on his speech, even if it was a garbled mess. My favorite little white lie involved one of those fortune tellers made by folding a piece of paper like this:

We called these Cootie Catchers. The idea was to write “fortunes” inside and, after asking someone to tell me a number, then a color, then some other nonsense, I would reveal her fortune (which I had written inside when I made the catcher). One of my clever fortunes was, “You will be an old maid.” To my pre-teen self, this must have seemed like a fate worse than death. I was playing the game with my 28-year-old aunt, who was considered to be on the verge of being a spinster, and that is the fortune she chose. Except that now, I understood the importance of dishonesty in situations like this. So yes, I lied and pretended she had landed on a different fortune. My mother would have been proud.

Of course, when it came to important things, I still believed honesty was the best policy. No matter how many great social policies he passed, LBJ was the ultimate liar when it came to Vietnam. I hated Nixon because he was, indeed, a crook. And when W and Cheney got us into the war in Iraq based on lies, I was outraged. Thus, I came to believe in truthiness when it came to politics, a term coined by Stephen Colbert in 2005, which meant, “The quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.”

On the Word segment on his satire of right-wing news, “The Colbert Report,” Stephen went on to say,

Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true, or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, no heart.

I laughed when Colbert defined truthiness as,

“The quality by which one purports to know something emotionally or instinctively, without regard to evidence or intellectual examination.  The truthiness is whatever I want it to be.”

Since Trump moved into the White House, I have stopped laughing. Diogenes would have a hard time finding one honest man or woman in that place.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: been there, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Laurie, this is a wonderful story! I loved your moment of shock watching your parents throw their luggage into the flooding basement, and your phrase “the little larcenies that were acceptable.” Also, your tactfulness with the cootie catcher was priceless. And truthiness, which was funny when it wasn’t quite as accurate as it is now. As you say, we have stopped laughing.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Suzy, my parents’ little larceny with their suitcases was something I remember so clearly. At my young age, I was shocked to learn that they could be dishonest. The incident with the cootie catcher and my “spinster” aunt, who did marry by the time she was 30, feels like something from a bygone era. I wonder of kids today would lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. As far as politicians go, I hate to think that honesty has become irrelevant. Perhaps it was naive to think they they were ever honest. Well, maybe Jimmy Carter…

  2. John Shutkin says:

    A lot of us are also touching upon the little white lies that are told and how, unlike the big black ones, they are often done for a greater good. But thank you for reminding me of Colbert’s “truthiness,” which even he could not have predicted to be as relevant as it is in this dark era of Trump. It is one of those concepts, like “frenemies” and “humblebrag,” that one knew existed even before a label was put to it. That said, as you point out, with Trump’s congenital lying, and all it has done to the whole concept of truth and facts, it is impossible to keep laughing. As you wisely (and wryly) note, Diogenes wouldn’t waste a minute of his search in the White House.

  3. Loved your story, Laurie, especially the luggage part. Like you, I was told to always tell the truth, that punishment would be much more severe if I told a lie. It didn’t always work out that way.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Yep, that luggage thing was pretty disillusioning. And the punishment would be worse for lying if you were caught. One of my brothers specialized in rarely being caught and learned that confessing to his crimes was far worse than hoping they would go undiscovered.

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