Fibs, fictitions and the practicalities of lying.

I am prone to exaggeration. Not just little additions to stories or anecdotes either. I'm talking about big fat lies. Whoppers. Porkies. I'm guilty of twisting any semblance of what actually happened into an epic tale of overwrought blood, sweat and tears. 

Why have a drop of rain when you can have a raging monsoon? A look across a room between two people can become a Mills & Boon-esque passionate love affair. Why stop at the humdrum when you can have lights, camera action?

If we were all being honest (an over rated attribute), we would all admit to stretching the truth. It's not a case of just making yourself more interesting (although this is also true). Exaggeration makes the world more interesting.

Obviously there are a number of things that could happen to each of us whilst we nip to the newsagent for ten Bensons and a pint of milk. But why keep it to that. The addition of a cat stuck up a tree, ten firemen and an amorous housewife livens up the story no end. Throw in a nude skydiver, a runaway milk cart and some minor b-list celebrity scandal and we have reached front -page territory. 

A study conducted by the University of Massachusetts found that 60% of people lied at least once during a ten-minute conversation, and told an average of two to three lies. Surprisingly, it showed that the lies told by men and women differed in content if not in quantity. With women, they lied to make others feel better as in "Ooh, isn't your hair lovely" as opposed to men who preferred to buffer their own egos with "I'm the lead singer in a band."
What was interesting was that they were all unaware that they were lying.

Once you have admitted that you tell porkies, you begin to see the world from a different perspective, noticing that everyone is at it. The use and our acceptance of lies infiltrate every aspect of our lives - from harmless little white ones to the rather more sinister variety.

In his recent Oscar acceptance speech, US documentary maker Michael Moore attacked President Bush for his "fictitious" war in Iraq, to stirring effect. "We live in fictitious times. We live in a time with fictitious election results that elect fictitious presidents. We live in a time when we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons" said Moore. He carried on, twice using a fictitious word - ficticion, and was reported to have booed, when it was clear he was being mostly applauded.

These 'ficticions' are everywhere - from TV, literature and the movies, to journalism, comedy, art and the gossip of the everyday. Fibbing constructs new narratives, blending a fine mix of truth, lies and exaggeration into a more interesting, if not always an agreeable view of the world.

Psychologist Robert S. Feldman, who carried out the Massachusetts research, says, " It's so easy to lie. We teach our children that honesty is the best policy, but we also tell them its polite to pretend they like a birthday gift they've been given. Kids get a very mixed message regarding the practical aspects of lying, and it has an impact on how they behave as adults."

These 'practical aspects of lying' basically mean there is good fibbing and bad fibbing, although even that distinction is cloudy. The phrase 'trust me I'm a doctor/policeman/priest' sadly holds no water nowadays. How you place your self in relation to this good/bad equation is a matter of personal politics. I prefer to use fibs as a kind of creative Chinese whispers, adding to an already askew mix of references, tittle-tattle, gossip and idle banter. I have used fibs and little white lies to protect myself, other people and to get in and out of tricky situations. It wasn't my fault she thought I was in Westlife. It doesn't make me a bad person.

The tall tales we tell all add to life's rich and rather drunkenly made tapestry. How we interpret them adds another foggy layer of understanding, which in turn creates further 'ficticions'. As long as we understand this process it can open up the possibility of thinking differently, of challenging all information, and imagining things other than they are. 

Gordon Dalton - is an artist and writer based in Cardiff, Wales.