Lying [noun]: the telling of lies, or false statements; untruthfulness.
When I was younger, lying was as easy as breathing. I loved to spin tales, and fooling people was simple when I had such an innocent, trustworthy face. I told my second-grade teacher that I was allergic to dust, so that she would excuse me from classroom cleaning time. I told my mother that my sister stole the last piece of the 1,000-piece puzzle sitting in our living room, when in reality I had just taken it for my own amusement. And I told anyone who asked that my first kiss happened when I was five years old, with my kindergarten boyfriend named Anthony. In reality, the furthest we got was holding hands for a lengthy two seconds while we were pretend-married by our pretend-priest in front of the swing set.
Somewhere down the road, I had some moral sense knocked into me, and I vowed to be more honest. It wasn’t hard when I barely spoke—and when I did, I was so concerned with being liked that I only spoke words of praise. Were these excessive compliments considered lies? They weren’t untrue, but just an extension of how I actually felt. An exaggeration, if you will.
Exaggerate [verb]: to magnify beyond the limits of truth; overstate; represent disproportionately.
When I came to Boston College, I found myself doing quite a lot of exaggerating. I didn’t want to falsify the person I was, but I didn’t want to seem inadequate, either. So, maybe I overstated my love of poetry to get the approval of my fellow English majors. Maybe I exaggerated my knowledge of copy editing on my application to become a Heights editor my freshman year. And I most definitely exaggerated how much I loved BC to my family back home, when in reality I was feeling scared and detached.
When I finally had the chance to write an editor’s column last year, I saw it as an opportunity to finally be myself—and to share my honest opinions with the BC community. Not once did I find myself lying or exaggerating to make myself (and others) look good. At least, that’s what I told myself.
This week, I was assigned to read Lying by Lauren Slater for one of my English courses. As the title suggests, Slater admits to having falsified certain details in her memoir about having epilepsy, but she never actually asserts that she is a liar. Rather, the first chapter is composed of two single words: “I exaggerate.” Slater has explained on many occasions that her work should not be read for its historical or factual accuracy, but for the metaphorical truth that arises from her narrative. Our professor then asked the journalists in the room if the tendency to lie or exaggerate is present in newspaper writing. Freshman year, my answer would have been simple: absolutely not. Journalism is where the facts are reported, and subjects are represented as truthfully as possible. There is no place for lying in a newsroom.
Now, as a senior who has written countless words for The Heights, I’m not so sure that my writing has been completely truthful. Especially in my column writing, I tend to pull small details from my life that wouldn’t be significant otherwise, and magnify them in order to make a larger point about some issue or theme. Sometimes I even craft scenarios around them—scenarios that could have happened, but didn’t occur exactly how I depicted them.
It’s occurred to me that the reason why I exaggerate, the reason why I can’t just write what I feel without including buffer details, is because I’m searching for something to validate my thoughts. And this need to have self-validation is not just a habit of my column writing: it seeps into many parts of my life. While I cannot speak on behalf of the entire student body, it’s safe to say that we all exaggerate sometimes in order to self-validate. We exaggerate our interest in a topic in order to seem scholarly and well-informed. We tell ourselves that finding a job or graduate school is a top priority, when in reality there are moments of apathy that seep into our determination. We smile for the camera and put the photo on Instagram one day to show how much fun we’re having, even if the other days of the week have been pretty crappy.
This is normally the part where I attempt to share a bit of wisdom with my readers, and give them some reason for reading all the way to the end. As I write my penultimate column as a Heights editor, I don’t have a moral lesson, just a confession: sometimes I lie. Sometimes I exaggerate. I don’t always have something interesting to say in this column space, and there are days where I just don’t think that what I have to say is good enough. We all stretch the truth sometimes for the sake of the story, and I am always willing to do whatever it takes to tell a good one. Today, however, I don’t have a solution, or a neat-and-tidy ending.
And that’s the truth.
Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Graphic