Is it hard to consider that many of our favorite stories are really pretty little lies in disguise?
Look at excellent stories that span generations and have spread over entire countries. It’s a pretty short list isn’t it?
Can you think of any off the top of your head?
What were the origins of these stories? Did they start out being real, or something made up?
After doing some self reflection, I realized that some of the most entertaining stories are actually pretty little lies in disguise.
And if you want to watch a humorous and captivating version of the stories I’m sharing in this blog, give this video a watch:
Two big pretty little lies immediately come to mind
And they’re both stories that we heard when we were kids, and we whole-heartedly believed them.
Until we found out that they were fibs our parents and our culture told us.
Which led me to explore this idea in a more comprehensive capacity.
What if some of the best, most engaging and well-spread stories (that we believe to be true at one point in time) are actually a lie?
The story and lie that eclipses them all
Let’s go ahead and knock out the big one right out of the gate, shall we: Santa Claus.
You knew I was going to go there, didn’t you?
Every year for the past century or so, parents and society in America have been telling kids that if they’re good this year, Santa will bring them toys.
All they have to do is make a list and come Christmas morning, their good behavior is rewarded with presents under the tree from jolly ole Saint Nick.
Which isn’t exactly how it works, is it?
I knew a ton of rowdy, disrespectful children who received some pretty awesome toys from Santa every year.
And I struggled to see why they got the good stuff when they were little hellions all year long.
Like you probably did, I tried my best to be an obedient good kid to avoid the disappointment of a Christmas without new GI Joes, Transformers, or other toys.
Also, I respected my parents so I stayed in line most of the time (see one exception to this below).
But why and how did the bad kids still get good stuff at Christmas if Santa is keeping a list of who’s naughty and who’s nice (behaved or crazy as hell)?
The numbers and data just didn’t add up.
Banking on the magic of the pillow
I imagine every parent has mixed feelings about their kid losing their first tooth. The discovery that gets made on the financial benefits for the kid are pretty interesting.
It goes something like this:
Timmy: “Dude, you won’t believe this. I made $10 last night after I lost my tooth.”
Brian: “What? How did you do that?”
Timmy: “It’s easy. The Tooth Fairy came while I slept. I just put the tooth under my pillow and when I woke up I had some hard cash where the tooth had been. Now I’m going to get rich! I’ll definitely be able to get an Xbox now because I’ve got like 20 teeth or something!”
Brian: “Whoa! That’s awesome. I can’t wait to lose my first tooth. I’ll tell my mom when I get home. She’ll be so excited!”
The conversation at home goes a little differently than planned
Brian goes home with excitement to tell his mom about his new entrepreneurial endeavor.
He’s going to bank on the power of his pillow. He figures, if Timmy can make $10 on one little tooth, he can surely conjure $15 or $20 per tooth.
His mom’s eyes get a little larger with every sentence that explodes with joy out of her son’s mouth.
While she’s excited about him losing his teeth (in a healthy, natural way), the family dental plan might be more expensive than she’d considered.
“This wouldn’t have happened if Mom and Dad told you the truth”
Let’s bring this whole subject of excellent stories starting out as pretty little lies a little closer to home.
I got my first real foray into this realm of storytelling by accident.
Yeah, I bought into the Santa Claus tale and the Tooth Fairy too.
But I made my own mark when I was about eleven years old and was playing basketball in my back yard one day after school.
My little sister demanded that I play with her
No hyperbole on the demanding part. She had a little squealy voice and would say in a high-pitched tone, “I’m your sister. Play with me!”
I just wanted to shoot hoops, not entertain an eight year old. I told her to go inside and play with her toys but she wouldn’t stop pestering me to play with her.
So I did that thing that other siblings do to get a little peace and quiet: I told a pretty little lie.
“You know, we wouldn’t really have this problem if Mom and Dad hadn’t adopted you,” I said bluntly.
The look on her face went from knowing what she wanted to absolute shock and confusion.
She tried to hold her own for a bit. She reminded me that we have photo albums of pictures of Mom, Dad, and I at the hospital holding my baby sister, which proves that she wasn’t adopted.
Which is true. We do have those.
And I could have stopped the pretty little lie and acquiesced her request to play with her.
But I didn’t stop when I could/should have.
Keeping the pretty little lies going is how the story gets the most juice
That’s right, I kept the story going.
And I was making everything up on the fly. Which is pretty inventive in a way if you think about it.
I responded by telling my sister that the baby pictures of her at the hospital weren’t real.
I said that we (including myself in my parent’s “decision-making” process on this thing) decided to hire a photographer and stage a newborn photoshoot at a hospital so my sister would think she’d always been a part of the family.
I know. I know. I know.
It’s awful isn’t it?
And I said earlier how I tried to be a good kid and not do anything wrong at the beginning of this article so I could score big on Christmas.
But I was setting myself up for a stocking full of coal with every word in this moment.
Her little face melted with sadness and tears. She ran inside and I felt like I’d finally won some freedom to do what I wanted.
But here’s the thing: we can lie (tell original stories) to other kids much better than we can to our parents.
And I was never good at lying to my dad.
He had a way of getting the truth out pretty quickly.
When he came outside and asked if I’d told my sister she was adopted, I immediately fessed up. And apologized.
Fortunately I didn’t get coal for Christmas that year
And 30+ years later it’s a story my sister retells with humor.
As I recollected memories from childhood, particularly things that are funny to reminisce about, I was brought front and center with some of the lies I’ve told that became great stories.
Which led me to looking at other stories that have stood the test of time and are based on absolute fibs or alterations of history.
Here’s a really funny example
Reading David Sedaris’ essay Six To Eight Black Men gives an entirely different portrayal of kids receiving presents for Christmas in the Netherlands.
Both our American version of Christmas presents and the Netherlands’ version are pretty wild. And they’re both great stories, regardless of their authenticity.
So the next time someone tries to tell you pretty little lies, instead of getting upset, look to see what great story might be hidden inside.
About Me: Hi, I’m D Grant Smith, The Growth Farmer of Personal Development Through the Lens of Spirituality and Storytelling.
*This blog article was originally published at Medium.com