Learning from House and Hitler

In case you’re not familiar with the TV show, House (Dr. Gregory House) is a brilliant diagnostician (with really cranky ways and a serious prescription drug problem).His credo is “Everybody lies”. Finding the patients’ lies is often the focus of the episode. House makes the point that people lie for different reasons. Sometimes they are just embarrassed about a particular fact–or they don’t think it is important. So the doctors on the show have to discover the lie that is the missing piece of evidence needed to discover what’s wrong with the patient.

Hitler’s contribution is “The Big Lie”. He declared that everyone makes LITTLE lies, so they expect other people’s lies to be similarly small. This leads them to accept the whopper, the grandiose, and  improbable more readily than a simple fib. Con artists are very familiar with this principle. Often they will start with a grain of truth–something that CAN be verified,  and then inflate the claim beyond all reason. Perversely it works — “Because who would lie about something so big.”

So a grassroots campaign worker might claim to be a senior advisor or speechwriter to a recently elected official, the more prominent the better. Whatever the field the person is targeting, they can pick some well known accomplishment and claim to have been the originator. In the movie “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”, the girls claim to have invented post-its. Unfortunately, the story of that invention is rather well known, so they get caught out.  A better choice would have been to claim invention of the adhesive for  press-on nails. But even Romy and Michelle were smart enough not to claim invention of something that happened before any possible involvement by them.  But if they claimed to have improved the glue and boosted sales…? It might just fly. Until someone checked their story.

Too often these days, people don’t check claims or credentials of those they do business with.  A simple Google search is better than nothing, but that often doesn’t provide quality information.  You have to look carefully at the source of the results. A dot gov site is more reliable than a dot com, especially when the dot com is a social media site with no screening. Anonymous posts can’t be verified. Liars will often create fake posts supporting their own claims–like making up names and posting reviews of their own books. Check to see if the reviewer has reviewed any other books (there’s a “read my other reviews” link on Amazon).  Another warning sign is over the top comments. In “Singing in the Rain,”  Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) writes a press release labeling herself “a shining, shimmering star in the cinema firmament.” and seems to believe her own lie, because, after all, it’s printed in the paper. I’ve see book reviews that say “[Author] is a shining star on the literary horizon.”  Wonder if that reviewer saw the movie? (And it occurs to me that a star is just a flaming ball of gas!)

Back to searches. A more reliable source is to go to a newspaper site and search the archives for stories using a particular name.  You can find stuff that way that won’t show up in a normal Google search. The same is true of records about lawsuits. The best (free) way is to go to the county court site for a given city and do an online records search. Access varies widely from county to county.  In some counties, you can pull up scanned copies of actual signed court documents, giving details of a case and the disposition (the judge’s ruling).      

If you are using Google, check the actual links, not just the summary. Sometimes a person can get their name to show up with a publication just by posting a comment on someone else’s article.

It’s a jungle out there, so be careful. Even experts can get fooled. Just a few years back a leading law firm belatedly discovered that one of their associates had faked her resume and didn’t even have a law degree. But don’t let the possibility of deception ruin your networking experience . One of Reagan’s favorite expressions was a Russian proverb: “Trust, but verify”–it’s still a good policy. Watch your back, and check out references before getting involved with people you meet on the internet.

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2 Responses to Learning from House and Hitler

  1. Pat Garcia says:

    Hi Betsy,
    A very interesting and helpful blog article. I have never seen the tv show House. It hasn’t come to German television.
    You are a very gifted writer and I have nominated you for the Beautiful Blogger Award.

  2. Peggi Tustan says:

    Great advice, Betsy. And I loved your intriguing title. I just had to read the blog.

    For some reason, I’m always surprised by how easily people lie. Even though I often have to check myself, especially when writing. “Is this really the truth?” We all have our ways of putting our own “spin” on things, don’t we.