“Um…yes,” lied Pinocchio. His wooden nose began to itch.
“I have no family,” said the teddy bear.
“Nor do I,” lied Pinocchio. His itchy nose began to grow.
from The Story of Pinocchio
written by Carlo Collodi, 1883
retold by Katie Daynes
Usborne Books, 2005
Illustrated by Mauro Evangelista
accessed on YouTube 10/16/22
read by Mr. Moon
When my older daughter was an inquisitive four-year-old, she had a very scary nightmare about Pinocchio. He was in her bedroom terrorizing her. Was she afraid because he was a puppet that turned into a real boy? Or that he caused so much trouble by being naughty? It could have been that his nose grew each time he told a lie. I never learned why my daughter was scared. But she was terribly afraid.
When I convinced her to tell me why she was so upset, she told me about her nightmare. I offered Pinocchio my hand. My daughter held onto my other hand and we walked to the bottom of the stairs. She opened the front door and I told Pinocchio it was time for him to go home. When my daughter agreed that he had indeed left, she closed the door behind him. Pinocchio never came back.
I don’t know what inspired me to calm her down that way, but I’m very grateful it worked.
My daughter insisted she always told me the truth. About everything. While I’m sure that’s not exactly accurate, she may have believed she was telling me the truth. Experts tell us that we all lie. Everyone of us. Lies help us connect our wishes of who we are and who we long to be, with who we really are.
Sometimes we are protecting someone’s dignity or our own when we lie. Some people lie for financial gain or they lie to gain power. Most people know when they lie, but about 7% of us don’t know why we do it.
According to Pamela Meyer in her 2011 TED talk, How to Spot a Liar, lying is a co-operative act. We will believe what a person tells us, whether or not they told a lie, because we are willing to believe them.
Children begin to lie when they learn to use language. They test the parameters of how far they can influence and manipulate their environment. When a seven or eight-year-old tells their parent a lie and doesn’t “get caught,” they learn that parents can’t read their minds and that parents believe what they are told. And it sets them up for becoming willing believers, too.
But we are not children. We’re living in a time when our very Democracy is in peril. It is election season again, and political ads are never like news. As a matter of fact, candidates in political ads are allowed to lie. It’s in the Constitution, in the First Amendment. The one that protects free speech. This protection is an essential concept in American Democracy. We can express our ideas and, unless we are promoting something unlawful, the government cannot prohibit that speech. Duke University explains it this way on their YouTube channel: “If speech is political in nature, no matter how outrageous and offensive it might be, it may still be protected by the First Amendment.”
Ads, by their very nature, are made to get our attention. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates what can be said in a commercial advertisement. That protects us as consumers from false claims made by drug companies, toy companies, car manufacturers and anyone else trying to sell us something.
While the FTC oversees commercial speech, and while there’s some overlap when it comes to advertising on the internet, it’s the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that regulates our First Amendment right to free speech.
Part of the First Amendment says the government cannot force us to say something against our will. But politicians say what they want us to believe. Often, we are willing believers. We believe their ads, especially when derogatory comments fly back and forth from opponents.
Courts have allowed candidates to say what they want on federally regulated broadcast channels. The broadcasters are not allowed to reject an ad, even if it is blatantly false. And while they must disclose who is paying for the ad, some superPACs are named purposefully to deceive. Some disclosures go by so fast that they are unreadable or unable to be understood.
Cable channels can and do sometimes reject ads. So do digital advertising platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
When an idea rings true, it’s often said to be “on the nose.” The American Heritage Idioms Dictionary says “on the nose” comes from boxing. When a punch landed accurately, it landed on the opponent’s nose.
Journalists have a “nose for news,” the instinctive sense for what makes a big story. They can sniff out a story that is interesting to lots of people. The phrase is said to come from the radio newsroom where a technician would lay their finger alongside their nose to indicate when the newscaster should begin to speak.
Since we can’t believe everything (anything?) we hear, we need to stay informed by reading and listening to reliable, non-partisan sources, journalists who have a “nose for news” and give us stories that are right “on the nose.”
My daughter’s nightmare aside, wouldn’t life be easier if politicians (and journalists for that matter) had noses like Pinocchio’s?
be curious! (and a little skeptical)