Do you know any liars? Not little-white-liars but congenital, “Liar, liar pants on fire” liars? The tricky part is, how can you tell when someone is lying? Often, you can’t and so have to trust your instincts. I expect politicians, Rush Limbaugh and drug addicts to lie, but I hold family, friends and acquaintances to a higher standard; I take what they say as the truth.
Was I wrong! Here’s what I learned about liars this past month. My husband and I went on a three-week photography trip to Madagascar, joining four others and our teacher. As is to be expected when strangers with few common interests are thrown together in a challenging situation, there can be a few prickly problems. One of our group—I’ll call him Matt—quickly became the group prickler.
At first, everyone took Matt at his word. He was a world traveler, he said, and had a patch sewed on his photo vest to prove it. That was puzzling because Matt brought close to 100 pounds of luggage, something an experienced traveler wouldn’t do. Then followed a claim that, after two years of study, he had earned a certificate in digital photography from a university near his residence in the southwest. Oddly, at our first photo shoot, Matt could neither set up his tripod nor take off the camera’s lens cap.
As the trip progressed, the claims became increasingly suspect. He announced at one uncomfortable dinner that he was a multimillionaire. A long silence followed as the rest of us took a sudden interest in our salad plates. Over the days, the claims grew grander and grander. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School; his wife is an orthopedic surgeon; he has an expensive car and house (and passed around a photo of—you guessed it—an expensive car in front of an expensive house).
Apparently Matt is unacquainted with “the Google,” much like his southwestern senator, John McCain. When we reached a location where there was a functioning internet, it took less than ten minutes and an e-mail to a Harvard Law grad friend to learn that Matt (1) didn’t graduate from Harvard Law School (2) is married to a doctor of podiatry—a respected profession but apparently not good enough for Matt, who transformed her into an MD in orthopedic surgery; (3) was once a multimillionaire but, after pleading guilty to felony tax fraud, was convicted and required to pay those millions back to the IRS.
You may wonder why I go into such detail about this liar. I have been wondering, too, why my disgust with him persists. I decided it is because Matt’s lies extended beyond portraying his accomplishments, wealth, and education as something they weren’t. The lies extended to his rude and callous treatment of the wonderful Malagasy people who helped him every day for three weeks. While ordering them to carry all his equipment, fetch water, and take away his garbage, he charmed them with cute nicknames and conned them with promises of generous tips. I believed that he would do what he promised, but instead, when it came time to move on, he gave them only smiles and handshakes—this in one of the poorest of poor countries, where every bit of income is necessary for survival.
Matt lives a life of lies. They pervade every aspect of his life. Unlike some liars, he knows he is lying and he doesn’t care. When, at the end of the trip, he was told that we knew he was lying about his life, his response was, “Why does that matter? That’s all in the past.” But it isn’t. It’s here now, in his interaction with the Malagasies as well as with his fellow travelers. I would like to say that, despite everything I have learned about him, I can forgive Matt for the way he lives his life, but I can’t. I’d be lying.
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