A man walks through town with a small monkey on his shoulder. (A white-headed capuchin, Cebus capucinus, let’s say.) He walks with it about town, into meetings, focus groups, and visits with various officials of the local government. On many occasions, the monkey scratches, bites, or throws its feces at someone. This happens quite a few times.
Thereafter, at a public meeting, someone asks the man about his association with the monkey, and the man replies to that question –
Q: “How are you associated with the monkey?”
A: “I’m not associated with the monkey. That’s a mistake.”
Everyone familiar with the man’s travels about town knows he’s lying, and lying in the way that only the brazen or stupid tell lies: a complete denial in the face of evidence to the contrary.
That means, of course, that’s there’s something profoundly objectionable or unsuitable about the man as a business partner. He might be stupid, but he’s more likely brazen. His complete denial operates as a dare: Can I say anything to you, and have you move on without follow up?
Of course, others in the room know that the man has lied. He has been walking about town with a vile and filthy primate, and that nasty animal has been scratching, biting, and throwing feces on many occasions.
In one way, the single question and the answer it elicited has been successful: the man’s lied at the meeting, and others in the room now know it.
In another way, however, the single question lets the man go on too easily – it’s not enough that insiders know the man is a liar – his denial should be shown there and then for what it is, to all the community, as a blatant, bald-faced lie. A few quick follow ups will serve that purpose, including pictures showing the man with the monkey.
That’s more confrontational, to be sure, but it’s the man who has sparked confrontation by lying about his association with the ornery monkey. The follow up, even if heated, merely enforces an accountability to the truth that underlies a well-ordered society.
In the episode of the man and the monkey, follow up questions that some would describe as ‘grilling’ would be, in fact, a principled, admirable determination to assure lies do not go unremarked.
The more of that we have, the better: when we have more of it, then we’ll have less future need of it, as we’ll not be a mark for liars and charlatans.