When someone asks a question, do you take the question at face value or do you pause to consider the motivation behind the asking of the question? Do you wonder why the person is asking that question? Do you ask – Is that really a question or is it something else?
Some questions are straightforward, and the motivation for asking them is in the question itself. Such as when you get stopped in the street by a stranger who asks you to give them directions.
Although even those kind of questions sometimes have to be considered carefully.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
When I was about 9 years old, while rollerskating up and down the street where I lived in London, I was asked the way to Hyde Park by a man.
He seemed nice. He looked normal. He claimed to have recently moved to the area and didn’t know his way about yet.
But my mother had told me many gruesome tales about children being abducted by strangers. She stressed the fact that adults who want to snatch a child tend to appeal to a child’s innocence, their desire to please and tendency to trust adults, take what they’re saying at face value.
Since I lived near Hyde Park… I was a bit wary of such a stupid question on the part of an adult. But adults could be very dumb. And children were not supposed to be rude to adults and highlight their stupidity, that made adults angry and liable to punish the child.
I pointed to a road and explained that if he followed it all the way to the end he’d find the park. The man barely looked at the road, he kept looking at me. He told me that he was prone to getting lost and asked me if I could take him there.
“How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin,― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!”
I answered in the affirmative. He seemed relieved by that.
I took off on my rollerskates and stopped where my street joined the road I’d pointed at. I waited for him to catch up and then pointed at the trees at the very end of that road. I told him that was the park, and that this was as far as I was going.
He seemed a bit put out, and lingered instead of heading to his destination. He claimed that he was still afraid of getting lost. But by then his childish appeals were annoying, and I was getting rude in my replies.
He finally realised that there was no way in hell I was going anywhere with him, so he cut to the chase – the real motivation behind his original question.
He asked me the colour of my underwear.
“People like us don’t go out at night cause people like them see us for what we are.”
― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
The other day Lauren of Lolsys Library shared an image (see below) in a post – I Don’t Love The Way You Lie
and asked – Why would someone lie about that?
I can think of multiple reasons for lying about something like that.
The simplest reason is that you were supposed to read the book as part of a school assignment. You tried, it was boring, you gave up, or you were too busy with other things and didn’t have time to do it, so when your teacher asked you if you did your homework and read the book – you lied.
A blogging version of that is pressing ‘Like’ on a post which you haven’t read. Maybe you tried to read it, and it just didn’t interest you. You pressed ‘Like’. It’s not a lie because the ‘Like’ button doesn’t have rules about when you can and can’t press it. It’s not your fault if the blogger thinks your ‘Like’ means you read their post. It would be slightly different if the ‘Like’ button was a ‘Read’ button, but that word in English has a loophole – it could mean ‘to be read’ sometime later.
“Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies.”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Many readers have at least one pile of ‘to be read’ books. Which may include the books on that list above. But are they part of the ‘I am so looking forward to reading that‘ pile or the ‘I am so lying to myself about ever reading that‘ pile.
To lie successfully, sell your story to others, you have to buy into your own lie first – believe it and others will believe it too.
Once you’ve placed a lie into the belief section of your mind, sometimes it just stays there, builds a house, settles into its new home, gets married and has children.
The truth can be jarring. It can destroy the family and home built by a lie. It can get you into trouble… which you could so easily avoid by lying.
Another simple reason for lying about having read a book is peer pressure and the fear of consequences if you haven’t done what your social group considers to be a must-do.
Lying can make you a respectable member of society, whereas the truth may cause you to be labeled a freak and ostracised.
WHAT!?! You haven’t watched Game of Thrones!!!! Well, you’re not one of us then, off with your head, don’t show your decapitated face around here again until you’ve got with our system.
“This looks like one of those unwelcome social summonses which call upon a man either to be bored or to lie.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
I once told my brother-in-law that I hadn’t read any of the Harry Potter books. I wished I’d lied about it and said that I had. He made it his mission to convert me to Harrypotterism, he even recruited his daughter as an agent to help him with his plan. I’ve read a quarter of one chapter of one of the books. I can now tell people I’ve read Harry Potter.
As I was pondering Lauren’s question, an old habit of mine kicked in. The one where I question the question and the motives the person had for asking it. I found myself wondering if Lauren’s question was one of those which is a something else.
It’s not. I can take what Lauren says at face value. If she reads this I’m sure she’ll understand as she’s had some run-ins with the sort of people who inspired me to develop that habit.
I’ve spent a lot of my lifetime around people whose questions cannot be taken at face value – narcissists.
If a narcissist asks – Why would people lie about reading a book? – it’s not a question.
Narcissists regularly lie, so they know why people lie. They would lie about reading those books, and therefore they know why others would lie about reading them.
“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”
― Joseph Heller, Catch 22
However that image states that ‘most people‘ lie about reading those books… a narcissist must never be a ‘most people‘. They must always be the exception, special, better than, superior to, above all others. Thus in that instance their formula would be – most people lie + I am not most people = I would never lie about such a paltry thing!
That question asked by a narcissist is an identity statement, the ego showing off – I have located inferior beings to whom I am superior and now I shall advertise it.
They’re not interested in other people unless those people can be used to the benefit of the narcissist’s persona, facade and self-image.
If you answer a narcissist when they ask – Why would people lie about reading a book? – with a personal story of having lied about reading a book then they now have a weapon to be used against you. You’ve admitted that you’re a liar, this will be stored as an accusation for later when you catch them out in a lie and they need to distract and discredit you.
If you give them an impersonal answer which contains empathy and understanding of others and their reasons for lying – you’ve just shown them that you have a knack for making excuses for liars, and they’ll be using that ability of yours to defend them when someone else catches them out in a lie.
If you answer them by saying that you too do not understand why anyone would lie about something like that and:
1 – the way you say it is narrow-minded, judgemental of others, then you’ve just informed the narcissist that you’re easy prey. Those who are certain that there is only one correct answer to a question, they have it and they’re right about it, are the easiest for a narcissist to manipulate.
“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
2 – the way you say it is innocent, naive, reflective of someone who takes people at face value, is not wary of others, does not question the facade with which they are presented…
OR the way you say it tells the narcissist that you’re eager to please the narcissist, you want to be agreeable, helpful, considered a good person, not be rude, not disagree, not upset them…
Then they can lie to you freely and you won’t double check, you’ll just go along with whatever they say. They can lead and you will follow… them to the park, and by the time it dawns on you that there was a sinister motive behind their question, it’ll be too late for you.
“From now on, it is our task to suspect each and everyone amongst us. Forewarned is forearmed. Take no risks and be alert to danger. That is all.”
― Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None
Thanks to my mother’s repeatedly told tales of adults luring children away with requests for help and then doing terrible things to those children, I didn’t go with that stranger.
But… long before my mother needed to fill my head with all those cautionary tales to help me help her protect me, I was a cautious of adults child. And she regularly got mad at me for being that way, for being a difficult brat.
She spent a lot of time and effort drumming into me that I needed to be respectful of all adults, that I needed to be polite, considerate, thoughtful, helpful to strangers, and stop being suspicious of everyone because it was embarrassing for her to apologise to the adults I’d upset by glaring at them and walking away from them when they were being fake-nice or some other kind of creepy to me.
“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is wilfully to misunderstand them.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Books are a bit like people.
Some are popular, others are not.
Some are a pleasure to read, whose company you blossom in and that book becomes a part of your own book.
Some you are forced to spend time with, and are an ordeal to read. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the book isn’t a good one, it’s just not one you personally enjoyed.
Some we remember, some we forget. Some we recall because we hated them. Some are erased from our mind even though we loved them dearly while we knew them.
Some teach us lessons about the world, others teach us about ourselves by showing us who we are and are not.
Some get categorised, labeled, put on a list, others don’t.
Most of my favourite books aren’t on that list, but then neither are my least favourite books.
What’s my score? The average, unless I count books I’ve started reading and stopped because that’s as far as I was going.