In a flush of nervousness and darting eyes, it happens. Figments of the imagination, creative fables, whoppers or just plain old lies. Pinocchio syndrome strikes a conscience without heed, often with disastrous, monstrous results.
"Honesty may be the best policy, but white lies sure make life easier," one Brea-Olinda High School junior admitted in an informal campus poll.
Students claim they lie "as an easy way out." Whether it is just to spare someone's feelings or to rescue yourself from a problem, these flams are used frequently and often without a second thought.
Fabrications come in many shapes and sizes. A white lie, students agree, is a small tale causing no harm. Next in line come fibs--"just for the fun of it"--and then untruths. These, too, are harmless but can jeopardize the credibility of the inventor.
Regular lies are "embarrassing" to the liar when he is caught but are used for adding zest to a recount of Friday's date or avoiding the editor when a deadline has arrived. Whoppers rate a 9 on the Liar's Scale, and the users usually end up with foot-in-mouth disease when caught.
The most frequent white lies are directed toward mom and dad. Top of the charts is the "Where-have-you-been" alibi.
Mother, I'm going out to dinner with Janie and then to see 'Lady and the Tramp.' I'll be home by 1.
Reality finds the same person cruising around Hollywood in a convertible with 17 other people.
Another pale prevarication is the homework excuse.
Gosh, Mrs. H, I did my book report but left it at home when our building was evacuated this morning. I'll bring it tomorrow--I promise!
After school, that honorable student dashes home to open the book for the first time.
Other popular white lies include the "you-look-great-today-in-that-outfit" (snicker, snicker) compliment and the "I-can't-talk-now-gotta-run" dash to avoid chatting with someone.
Whoppers, however, bring out more creativity. The trick in this deception is to not get caught. Some bluffers do, but others live to retell the tale.
Mom, dad, I'm going on an all-weekend, career-shadowing trip to San Diego with a friend. I'll need $50 and my friend is driving.
The senior later admitted, but not to her parents: "I went to the mountains with my boyfriend and some other friends."
One young man, a high school sophomore, said: "I once wrote letters to a guy to make him think a girl liked him. I got him all riled up and then just stopped writing the notes."
A common problem is explaining physical damage to the house to your parents after they have returned from a trip. "When I had a raging party, I said (to my parents that) only six or seven people were there," one respondent said. "Then I tried to convince them that the hole in the wall had been there for months."
If by some unlucky cut of the cards, a mythomaniac gets caught . . . well, trouble lies ahead. Mommy used to merely reach for the soap to clean out a dirty mouth, but now the car is often the first privilege to go. Next, limited phone privileges. Restricted nights on the town are imposed. Reportedly, no one gets spanked anymore but some liars are still sent to their rooms for punishment.
The solution is simple: Don't get caught.
But when the shoe is on the other foot, how do you spot a lie? Brea-Olinda students claim facial expressions are a telltale sign (unless you're psychic or just have a gut feeling).
Eyes, whether they flit around or are cast downward, are the surest way to tell a taradiddle. Liars can rarely meet another person's eyes--especially at the exact second the lie is told.
The nose knows (and grows!) too. Fabulists may rub or wrinkle their nose as a gesture to draw attention away from the eyes. Scratching and pulling the earlobe is also common and a dead giveaway.
Leslie Rodriguez, Brea-Olinda psychology teacher, said that liars often make speech errors. "Umms, errs, too many pauses while talking, stutters, and over-explaining," she said, "are all indications."
Most people, no matter how many yarns they themselves spin, would rather hear the awful, often heart-wrenching truth than be told a lie to spare their feelings.
"I'd rather someone just told the truth from the start, because it hurts more when you find out the truth later," one candid male student said.
"I would rather know the cold truth," a freshman girl added, "especially coming from a friend, because relationships are based on truth and trust."
A few people disagreed. "Lies are better," one senior said. "They're harmless and I can usually tell if someone's lying, so it doesn't matter."
The scenario: An after-game dance and the nerdiest guy or gal asks you, of all people, to dance. You refuse, offering, " . . . uh, my feet hurt." Just then, Mr. or Miss Right asks you to take a couple of spins around the dance floor. Your decision is . . .
Most people said, "Dance now, explain later!" One male student suggested, "I would dance anyway. I mean, I know it's sad that she's genetically lame, but why should it ruin my fun?"
However, there were a few students who said they would consider the feelings of the nerd or nerdette. A senior girl explained: "I would take the cute guy aside and just sit down and talk for a while. Maybe later I would dance. It would give my feet a chance to recuperate."
So, Pinocchios, remember: Your nose will grow if you stretch the truth. Your peers aren't that dense; they know a lie when they hear it (or see it). The truth comes out so much easier, and there is less of a chance that stories will get crossed and feelings hurt.