A design competition in early 2000 in the UK which challenged university students to create a "convincing lie" was effectively sabotaged when one of the entrants convinced the universities involved that the competition had been cancelled. The student had created suitably convincing headed notepaper from the poster used to advertise the competition and had mailed phony cancellation notices to each of the participating universities.

I can find no record of the outcome of this story, but if this person was not awarded the first prize, there is no justice.

While I’m aware that this story contains many of the hallmarks of an urban legend, I have been able to trace the Brighton University Professor, George Hardie, who is quoted in the source article. You can see a picture of the Prof. at http://www.bton.ac.uk/audience/former/pdf/10/page16.pdf

The original story appeared in the London Evening Standard, March 29 2000, and is quoted in FT 139.

I’ve spent the last few months in a small, but tight-knit group of friends. I would say I know more about these people than anyone else in the world. But as well as giving me an appreciation of all the positive aspects of their characters it has given me a deeper understanding of a very negative aspect of one of my friend's personalities: He is a compulsive liar and manipulator and lies so frequently I wonder whether he even knows he is doing it himself.

Everyone knows “John” is a liar. He uses his lies to make sure he always gets his way at the expense of his friends. He is such a good manipulator it’s hard to even come up with examples of his lies, but you can be certain that if you hang out with John you will be doing what he wants, usually at the expense of your own enjoyment.

Recently though I’ve started to fight back. Every time I organise something with John I feel like I’m stepping onto a giant chess set, sending pieces out weeks in advance, trying to back him into a corner, while constantly having to rebuff his short-term attacks. The most interesting thing about these battles is that neither party would admit to the other that they occur, although each knows they are part of a conflict. I feel like I am in a social cold war. Conducted by voice, telephone, email and text message I fight as best I can to get achieve my objectives. Even with the disadvantage that I have neither the motivation or intelligence to lie or deceive I am starting to gain a foothold, winning my fair share of conflicts and representing a final beacon of hope against John’s domination of our social lives. It worries me how good this feels.

I wonder though whether this is the best way to combat the problem. There is certainly no compromise in these situations. Either I get my way or he gets his, but either way one of us is unhappy and can’t even admit it for fear of confirming there was a conflict in the first place. It is hard to relax with John, as you have to be constantly alert to his deceptions. John is the archetypal “boy who cried wolf,” none of our friends can be certain anything he says is true, and even the most innocent of comments is treated with suspicion. In some ways now I feel most sorry for John. Having said above that I understand my friends as more than anybody I understand nothing about John. Who knows what character is lurking underneath that web of deceit? Is he even “our kind of person?” He is certainly the only one of the group who actively recruits new friends and sometimes it’s hard to tell if he even wants our friendship or just feels stuck with us.

Everyone has self-doubt at some time; wonders what it would like to be more popular, better looking or to have done more with their lives. Lies are a way to appear to have achieved more or to seem a better person than you really are. But what drives people to use lies to manipulate their friends? Maybe John doesn’t like all the things we do but his self-doubt is so strong he is afraid to suggest a compromise. Instead he tries to control our activities so we only do what he enjoys. Maybe he is so selfish he won't do anything but what he wants. Maybe he is so ruthless and ambitious he must achieve his goals at the expense of his friends. As a friend I would love to say that it must be self-doubt; that John isn’t selfish or heartless. But his true self is buried so deeply in lies I can’t be certain. That is truly terrible.

Li"ar (?), n. [OE. liere. See Lie to falsify.]

A person who knowingly utters falsehood; one who lies.


© Webster 1913.

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