The Boy Who Cried Wolf

It’s not about lying.

The classic story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf is usually told to little children. At the end, the ritual phrase must be uttered “and the moral of the story is…”, as a set-up for the Important Life Lesson, usually delivered as a stern warning, “Liars are not believed even when they tell the truth.”

But the moral and the story don’t actually match.

Of course, the moral is true – liars usually are not believed even when they tell the truth. Except in the case of cult personalities in religion, sports, politics etc. And the underlying message is: Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie. I agree wholeheartedly.

But the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf is not about lying per se.

I believe in the final reckoning, all lies will be exposed, all secrets and deceptions revealed and accounted for. (I worry most about my own, rather than relish at the prospect of others getting their comeuppance.) And yes, the Boy Who Cried Wolf was wrong to lie. But the spirit of his wrongdoing wasn’t so much lying in how I would do it, but attention-seeking.

When I lie, it’s pretty obvious why I do it. Almost always, it’s to save my own skin, hide a wrong-doing or failure – basically shame avoidance. Or sometimes, to boost my ego – e.g. exaggerating my knowledge, putting someone else down, backing up a point in an argument. In both cases, the aim is the same: To raise my moral standing, or at least avoid a drop in it.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf fable, none of these were at play. He was simply bored. He wanted entertainment and stimulation, and it needed to come at the expense of another human being. This harks to what I call the “My Will Not Yours Be Done” principle of human nature.

Basically, this is a parody of the prayer Jesus prayed in the Gethsemane where he said, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” If this is the ultimate prayer of surrender and submission, uttered by Jesus himself, then the direct opposite is what’s in my heart all the time, and I suspect, I am not alone.

It isn’t enough that my will be done, it must be in opposition to someone else’s for it to be meaningful and… satisfying. Or, in the case of the Boy – “fun”.

Superficially the story is about lying.

But on the next level, it’s about attention-seeking. Which, innocuous as it sounds, actually drives me up the wall. Not just from my kids, but perfectly reasonable people like my wife, mother, in-laws. More on that another time.

At the heart of it, I think it’s My Will Not Yours Be Done. That innate human desire to feel secure and valued by exerting dominance over an equal.

There is no glory in lording over animals or inanimate objects – it has to be someone else who would otherwise be able to lord over me.

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