• David Unger PhD

Alphabet Series - O is for Obfuscate



Just so we all can be clear, do you know what obfuscate means? You probably do, but just in case, here is what the Mirriam Webster Dictionary has to say: “to be evasive, unclear, or confusing.” If you did know the meaning, have you used the word recently when speaking to someone? My guess is you probably have not used it because it does not easily roll off the tongue.


Yet.you probably have been up to doing some obfuscating lately. Can you remember the last conversation you had where you purposefully were evasive, unclear or confusing? My guess is you don’t have to scan too far back. I have been reading the June 2017 issue of National Geographic cover story titled Why We Lie and was surprised to learn just how often people lie. Want to guess what the average number of lies told a day is for most of us? Before I share the number, let me point out what you already know. There are all sorts of lies we tell. There is the one when someone asks how you are and you say fine. The one where someone asks if they look good in their new outfit. And the one you tell yourself when you don’t really want to face up to something.


I want to focus on those times you are asked something and don’t really want to answer fully. Let's pick these two topics – sex and money. You are asked by your sex partner what you really want to do and what you really wish they would do more of or less of. How honest are you going to be? What if you are asked by your close friend how your sex life is going? Are you going to be doing any obfuscating? How about if your partner asks you how much you actually spent last week or your friend asks you exactly how much you earn. Is honesty going to be your go to policy?


If you are fully forthcoming with your answers you are in a select group. I am not sure if that is a privileged group to be a part of or if you are cursed to be compelled to speak the truth. Most people hedge their bets on their replies to questions about sex and money as well as other topics. With sex and money those answers can be too revealing and expose you to a range of responses. While on the one hand we value being truly known, we also fear it. If your partner knew what you really thought about your sex life or how you spend your money there might be troubling waters ahead. Or not, but there is the risk that if they knew they might not be pleased.


According to National Geographic, we lie to protect ourselves, to gain economic or personal advantage, to cover up a mistake, to avoid something or someone, to enhance our own self-image and of course to be malicious, altruistic, polite or because we are crazy. Lots of reasons to lie and yet most people don't really lie that often. Pretty much half the population reports that they do not lie, but personally I don't believe that statistic. I think the respondents were lying.


At different periods of our life we lie more. In the National Geographic survey our lying ways peak between 13 and 17, followed by 18 to 44. By the time we reach our 60's we're almost back to where we were when we were 6 to 8 when less than 30% of us told 1-5 lies a day. When we were in that 13-17 age bracket 59% of us told 1-5 lies a day. By 45-59 we had that down to 39%. You can see our lying ways rise and fall as we make our way through life.


I am not sure what the circumstances are that allow us to reduce our lying, but I would like to suggest to you that while there are times when obfuscation may feel called for, take heart in something I learned long ago. It isn't so much what you say as how you say. Of course, there are some things that no matter how you say them you are going to get in trouble. But, if you are anything like me, there are times something has come out of your mouth that you knew the instant you said it you had just made things worse for yourself. If only you had said it differently. We all have those moments, but hopefully as we age we have gained the wisdom of experience and learned that taking a moment to think before we act usually pays off well. No lie.

#Obfuscate #lying #NationalGeographic #Whywelie

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