History is filled with lies. Lies have started wars and taken down empires. Lies have ended relationships and destroyed families. And yet, people lie all the time. Big lies. Little white lies. To some it is so common that it is second nature. Even as a society we lie to one another every day. How are you today? I’m fine (when you’re not). How do I look? Great (when you don’t). Does this dress make my butt look big? No (when it does)! In part, perhaps we feel that people don’t really want to hear the truth, and so we are simply giving them what they want. And in part, perhaps it is easier for us to tell people what they want to hear, than to deal with the emotional reactions to things that they don’t. There are all kinds of reasons people give for not telling the truth.
Last week we asked people to come clean. We asked them to tell us what was the biggest lie they’ve ever told. We also asked them to tell us a time when they had to tell someone a difficult truth. Finally, we asked them if there was ever a time when they were being lied to and knew it, but didn’t call the person out on it. And while we didn’t get the level of response that we’d hoped for, we did learn from our research.
We offered total anonymity with our questions. We gave people the opportunity to share this information without us (or anyone else) ever knowing where it came from. Still, people were very reluctant. We had more responses with people sharing the biggest lies they’ve ever told than anything else, but the response were still few. We even had a few people who messaged us to let us know that while they’d like to help us, they just couldn’t bring themselves to share their secrets. I guess the promise of anonymity isn’t enough to allow some people to unburden their souls. Maybe some people are completely okay with the lies they’ve told? Or maybe, even if the face of anonymity, some people’s lies are too much to share, to even say aloud. But, in fact, there are all kinds of lies, mistruths, fabrications and falsehoods. There are little white lies, lies by omission, exaggerations, and half-truths. So when is it okay to lie? And is it ever a bad idea to tell the truth? Is honesty always the best policy? Probably not according to these, our top 5 list of some of biggest liars in history.
Benedict Arnold. Feeling slighted by his position with the American forces, Arnold defected to the British army during the Revolutionary War. He betrayed his country and his friend and advocate, George Washington. Today the name Benedict Arnold has come to be synonymous with the word traitor in the United States.
Charles Ponzi. A famous Italian businessman and con artist, Ponzi created an elaborate plan in which he promised people a 100% profit within 90 days for buying discounted postal reply coupons (frequently used at the time) in other countries and redeeming them at face value in the United States. Ponzi would pay back the early investors using the money from later investors. He successfully scammed investors of $20 million before authorities caught up to him. The now famous Ponzi Scheme (a fraudulent investment operation where the operator pays returns to its investors from capital paid by new investors) bears his name and paved the way for future top liars such as Kenneth Lay and Bernie Madoff.
Richard Nixon. Former President Richard Millhouse Nixon, in an effort to be re-elected, nearly pulled of one of the greatest lies of all time perpetrated on the American people. Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (very aptly named CREEP) broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel, and stole copies of highly important documents and bugged the office’s phones. When they realized that the wire-taps were defective, the group went back again but were caught and turned in by a security guard. Nixon denied the charges and pulled off a baffling series of acts of espionage, and got himself reelected. Unfortunately, Nixon was in fact a “crook” but not a very good one. He had the habit of tape recording every conversation that took place within the Oval Office, including those that would ultimately demonstrate his guilt and the many lies he thrust upon the American people. Ultimately “Tricky Dick” resigned rather than being impeached.
James W. Johsnton. Not familiar with this one are you? But I bet you’ve heard of RJ Reynolds, right? You know, the tobacco empire? The world’s largest tobacco manufacturer and distributor? Now let me post a quote from the previously unknown Johnston.
“Cigarette smoking is no more ‘addictive’ than coffee, tea or Twinkies.”
–James W. Johnston, CEO of RJR Nabisco, April 14, 1994
Makes sense now why he made our list, right? ‘Nuff said.
And last but not least, although this one is more of a statement-making prankster than a “liar”, we couldn’t exclude someone whose schemes were so effective that the New York Times once published his 1980 obituary, which naturally was exposed to be a lie just two days later…
Alan Abel. Abel is an American writer and filmmaker, known largely as a professional prankster, hoaxer, and mockumentary filmmaker. He is famous for several elaborate schemes, many of which became media circuses. Abel’s list of pranks have been carried out by befuddled people from various news outlets, radio stations, television shows and so on. Most notably a full blown feature story on the Today Show, involving his fake organization the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals. Claiming to be proponents for the cause of giving clothing to all animals, the prank was carried out at the national level in front of television viewers across the land. Their slogan, broadcast on prime time t.v. was “a nude horse is a rude horse.” Hard to believe so many people actually bought it, but they did!
There were so many liars that we didn’t get a chance to spotlight, but the week is young. Feel free to share your suggestions with us. This week we’ll be sharing with you the responses that we got to our questions about honesty. The lies people told. The truths people told. And we’d love to hear what you think. And that’s no lie.