Here Lies the Truth

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

Lying. We all do it to some extent. Why, shading the truth, omitting certain facts, little white lies and outright huge fish tales are just as American as mom, apple pie and Chevrolet. But, aside from tearing at the moral fiber of our country and our souls, what does lying really do for us?
On some level, it protects the target of the lie from painful truths. “That dress doesn’t look good on you,” or “I’m seeing someone else,” or “You’re qualifications aren’t what we’re looking for.” Still others protect the liar from almost certain retribution. “I didn’t kill that guy.” Yet others shade the situation in favor of the liar’s position, even when the facts aren’t in dispute. “I didn’t mean to kill that guy.”
A brief digression. In my first year of law school (actually, it was the first week), the professor asked “what was the first thing we wanted to know from a potential client?” The prevailing answer was the truth. The professor, in the inimitable law professor way, slowly shook his head and smiled. Nope. The first thing you need to know from a potential client is whether they can pay your fee. Much laughter. But seriously, he continued, the truth is a problematic issue, because, as you will see later, it’ll put your client in a box, where you may not have anywhere to go – no defense to provide. It’s better to learn your client’s side of the story and figure out how best to defend them from there.
From the law professor’s mouth to our ears. So, as noted, a legal perspective, lying is problematic. At worst, a lie that’s exposed could subject the liar to perjury or contempt, giving the lie a double-whammy. Or, a lie can, after years of work, shut your whole case down. But a more important, but less-obvious way a lie can sabotage your work is by the concept of “little boxes”.
Little boxes refers to the stories and narrative people tell. If the issue in your case is whether you grew up in, say, Frederick, Maryland, the attorneys will attempt to put a box around that by asking you if you grew up in Frederick, Maryland. Thus, the first box, around Frederick, is drawn. Then, you look to make that box smaller. Did you grow up in the City of Frederick? Near Rose Hill Manor? In three questions, the box went from a pretty big area, to a couple of square blocks. Once you get into the smaller box, any other option that isn’t found in that box are closed off to you.
When people decide upon a strategy of being less-than-honest, a whole world of possibilities close. You want to cry poverty? Don’t show up to court with your Louis Vuitton purse and your Rolex watch. You want to say that you were uneducated? Don’t let your resume or experience be submitted into evidence. You want to ask for intentional infliction of emotional distress? Better not have any health problems whatsoever, and God help you if you take any medications.
Also, you have to be very careful about what is said in either an affidavit or a deposition. Affidavits are kind of easy to swallow – they’re just a piece of paper that has a whole bunch of words on them, and require only a signature. Sure, you can sign it – you sign dozens of things every day without reading them, let alone understanding them. But the words are important, and, as mentioned earlier, they form little boxes around your narrative – boxes that aren’t easy to escape.
Depositions are a bit more time and stress intensive. Usually they last for a couple of hours, and you have lawyers firing questions at you. Some, like me, go into a deposition as a harmless kitten – I try to make you feel comfortable and at-ease; I ask you softball questions for the first hour to throw you off of your guard. Then I ask really difficult questions that begin to narrow your story down the way I want it to be. Sure, your attorney can object, but, in the end, most of the information I obtain can and may be used against you should your story change.
It always amazes me how much advice my parents gave me when I was a kid is applicable as an adult. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Be nice to people and they’ll be nice to you. And don’t fib – you never know when it could come back to haunt you.


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