BY MICHAEL REISIG –
I was sitting by the fireplace with a friend yesterday, drinking coffee and trying to keep away from the winter weather, and he was telling a grand story. I suspected that without a deliberate attempt to be deceitful, some of the story had been embellished, and given the situation that was perfectly okay. But the thing about exaggeration is that there’s a fine line between being a grand storyteller and a bald-faced liar, and I think the crux lies in how often and how willing you are to bend the truth.
You might think of exaggeration as a custom peculiar to man, but if you study nature you realize that mating rituals in animals and birds are often all about embellishing or magnifying elements of their bodies – fluffing out feathers, exaggerated actions, enormous bellows and roars. Actually that sounds to me like a night at the local watering hole.
But the problem with exaggeration is that it ultimately diminishes distinction, because it becomes the harbinger of disappointment and cheapens the final appraisal. The lesson here being the more you profess, the more you may be forced to produce. Take resumes for instance: there are few of us that haven’t gone to great pains to create an image there – they’re more like grand embellishments of who we’ve been in the past and a wish list of the qualities we assume would be an advantage to the situation at hand (staying within boundaries that won’t make us look like absolute fools if someone actually checks).
Let’s face it, many times in excitement or indignation, our conversations seem to take on a life of their own – the colorful embroidery of words are out of our mouths before we can stop them, and in a moments of quiet afterwards we chide ourselves for not correcting such blatant corruptions of the truth. I can’t help but be reminded of the quote by Kahlil Gibran: “Exaggeration is truth that has lost its temper.” But at the same time, exaggeration is often nothing more than a tool – used by governments, television networks, politicians, and novelists. We inflate situations, or deflate situations to suit our needs, or simply ignore situations with the exaggerated aplomb of the deaf.
But where is the line between exaggeration and lies? Where is that fine line where truth and conscience take a back seat to ego and exigency? The truth is, it’s an individual territory in each one of us, because no one weighs the value of honesty exactly the same as the person next to them. I have certainly met people with whom there was no distinction between truth and lies and there was no pride or sleep lost over the matter.
In hopes that all your stories carry a gem of veracity, I’ll leave you with a quote by 19th Century humorist Josh Billings; “There are some people so addicted to exaggeration they can’t tell the truth without lying.”