"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
August 28, 2014
Responding to a Lie
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

What do you do when someone lies to you? I mean, you ask them a question and they flat-out lie. You know they are lying because you yourself observed with certainty the opposite of what they are asserting.

And the topic of the lie is one of fact, not opinion.

Answer:

Being lied to is a jarring experience. It makes you feel betrayed, put down and surprised all at once.

Sometimes the response is as easy as saying something like, “Oh. I thought I saw you there.” It gives the person the benefit of the doubt, but lets him know you saw otherwise. But sometimes a lie is not so clear, or does not come to light until later. In these cases it is wise not to react hastily. Lying is a serious charge, and should not be levelled without reflection.

But first, let’s eliminate one category of lie that is not a lie at all: social niceties. If a person says to you, in the normal course of social interaction, “How are you?” the correct answer is, “Fine, thank you.”

“Fine” is the correct answer, even if you are not feeling fine, because “How are you” is not an actual question about your state of being. It is, instead, a social acknowledgment, an opening to the real conversation or interaction you are about to have.

Second, let’s eliminate a category of lie that is still a lie: the question you had no right to ask. If you approach a person and ask an inappropriate question, that person might feel justified in lying because you are not entitled to the truth. Such questions include, “Why don’t you have any kids?” “Do you color your hair?” “What did you pay for your car?” “Were you invited to Susan’s party?”

If you are asking these kinds of nosy, impertinent questions, stop it. You have no right to pry into people’s private affairs, and I’m not going to chide people who could not think of a graceful and true response to your inappropriate questions.

Third, mistakes are not lies. If Sarah asks Jocelyn what day the ACT registration forms are due, and Jocelyn says, “October 3,” then Jocelyn is not lying as long as she actually thinks the forms are due October 3.

If the forms are actually due September 19, and Sarah misses the deadline because of Jocelyn’s mistake, Sarah should not feel deceived by Jocelyn. Instead, Sarah should learn from this experience to verify deadlines for herself.

So, with those clarifications and distinctions in mind, what do you do when a person lies to you? Here are six suggestions.

One, reevaluate what you think you know. Before you label this person as untrustworthy — which is an appropriate label for someone who lies — you need to be sure that you are not basing your assessment on second-hand information, a misunderstanding of the facts, or events you witnessed in poor lighting.

So put aside your feelings of anger or betrayal and try to think of a way in which the person’s answer could be the truth. Does he know something you don’t? Are you assuming a fact that is not true? Did he misunderstand your question? Did you misunderstand his answer? Are you making too much of an implied answer or body language? In short, think of all the ways you could be wrong.

Two, you might decide to confront the person about the lie. If the person is a stranger whose lie has no lasting effect on you, let it go. Arguing with a stranger is not worth your time. But if the person is connected to you, you probably need to approach him. If he is innocent, he deserves a chance to explain the misunderstanding. And if he is guilty, he should know that his lie was discovered.

For example, imagine that your neighbor asked you for money to pay his electric bill. He explained that his money was stolen in a home burglary, that the police were investigating the incident, and that the power would be turned off tomorrow unless he paid the bill in person. You believed him and gave him the money.

You then wondered if that was a good idea, and called the police department and the power company to verify his story. Neither the police nor the power company had any record of an incident or an overdue bill.

In a case like this, I would approach your neighbor. “Terry,” you’d say, “I called the police today, and they have no record of a burglary at your house. And Energy Co. told me that your bill has always been paid on time. What’s going on?”

From here, you’ll have to use good sense to navigate the situation. A practiced liar will spin a yarn, and you may want to believe him. It will be painful to admit that you were taken in by someone you liked and trusted. And to realize that you won’t get your money back.

Three, when you know — know — a person has lied to you, you may need to warn other people. You may warn a new neighbor about the neighbor who lied to secure money from you. You may warn a friend about a child who lied and stole when he visited your home, if that child will be in her home. You should warn the bishop if a person at church has lied in a way that has harmed people or the Church.

This may feel wrong to you. Shouldn’t you mind your own business? And not gossip? Yes. But if you see that your neighbor, friend or fellow ward member is about to be bamboozled by someone you know to be untrustworthy, it is okay to tell that person what you know.

“Tammy,” you might say, “Before you hire Rebecca to paint your house, I want to tell you what happened when she painted my house last year.”

Then tell the facts of your story. Not, “Rebecca lied to me.” But, “Rebecca told me she was using Amazing Paint on my house, and she billed me for Amazing Paint. But when I took out my trash, the cans I saw were Cheap-o Budget Paint. I asked her about it and she got angry. She made excuses and accused me of calling her a liar. And she said she’d sue me if I told anyone. But she didn’t deny it, she didn’t refund my money, and the paint is already fading.”

Four, beware the pedantic. Some people are maddeningly precise in their speech. You ask George if he chopped down your flowering tree and he replies, “No,” because your “tree” is actually a shrub. Some people get technical as a way of weaseling out of things.

But other people are just annoyingly technical. If a person in your life seems to lie but is actually genuinely, cluelessly technical about things, you may need to learn to ask different questions.

Fifth, you can forgive the person who lied to you without allowing them into your confidence again. If a person has lied to you, you need to keep your eyes open from then on. It is perfectly consistent with forgiveness to verify what a person tells you instead of taking his word for it and to not do business with him anymore.

Finally, avoid asking questions to which you already know the answers. For example, do not ask your child and her sleepover guests, “Did you watch Killer Zombie Sex Fiends last night after I went to bed?”

Instead, say, “Girls, I saw from the Netflix queue that you watched Killer Zombie Sex Fiends last night after I went to bed. I told you that was against the rules. As a result, I will be driving you all home this morning before breakfast and we will not be going to the waterpark.”

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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