One explanation for the origin of the “Liar, liar pants on fire” rhyme involves the curiosity of a young country boy who stole a cigar from his daddy’s smoke box and hid in the tool shed to secretly mimic his father. After the boy lit the cigar, his dad smelled the potent smoke and followed its trail over crunchy leaves to the tool shed. When the lad heard his father’s footsteps, he snuffed the burning cigar as best he could and stuffed it into his back pants pocket. The father opened the shed door and barked at his son to tell the truth about what he’d done. The youngster feigned innocence, saying he was looking for a hook to go fishing with a friend at a promising fishing spot nearby. The cigar in his pocket suddenly sparked into flame. The father spotted the smoke and yelled, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” Then he swiftly turned the boy over his knee and whacked his behind, extinguishing the danger. Another possible origin for “Liar, liar pants on fire” is that it was derived from a poem written in 1810 by William Blake, titled “The Liar.” The phrase is often used as a taunt on political blogs.
Power of a Liar
I mulled over this refrain, Liar, liar, in my head after Boris Johnson’s resignation as Prime Minister. An immediate, recorded history of Boris’ propensity to lie surfaced. News outlets paralleled Boris’ rise in power with an escalation of lies. They neatly threaded with his endeavors to capture positional status. The patterns stitched into a grossly quilted cover. Each story patched ugliness of a questionable character. Even his peers couldn’t ignore the lies from this leader!
Character and power mingle. The latter controls. It wields good or evil. It teaches or tantalizes. Both progress with time, taking on a life of its own.
Lies demonstrate a socially acceptable norm for people to internalize, according to psychologists. If you have children, you know this. A child learns early to manipulate for personal gain.
Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Me? Not Me!
Animals are attuned into socialized behaviors as well. I’ve watched my German Shepherd dog with his socialization. She has bowed a shameful head when I admonished her while counter-surfing food. And I didn’t have to yell. I asked. She knew the social norms of the house.
That is because lying is a social construct.
Research tells us that we lie for various reasons: We rationalize. We stress. We tire. You can probably add to this list.
The power of lying grips, like pliers. There’s an anticipatory set of our emotional calibrator that stimulates the amygdala. Sadly, the amygdala’s feel-good reactions diminish with repetition. It creates a void for a more potent action. Boris added more fuel to a fire of lies. He responded “to various emotion-eliciting situations, with stronger activity related to a more potent experience.”
Eventually the gig is up.
Awareness Front and Center
I recently went through a ten-day bout of Covid. On the tenth day, I tested negative. Post Covid effects of BA.5 lingers. Fog. Fatigue. More fatigue. Added fog. I couldn’t ignore the aftereffects, so I scoured for research for my own awareness.
Tracing my morning awakenings, I recognized how my days would go.
Researchers don’t know the long-term effects for any strains of Covid. The variants “are a natural part of the progression of the virus” sparking change. Outbreaks spread like fire, while researchers move to capture the data.
Soon mindfulness about post-variant effects centered my days. Food. Water. Outdoor activity. Vitamins. Others detected my consciousness too like “pants on fire.” I couldn’t sustain any time on blogging, either.
At a recent book club meet up in a restaurant I masked anxiety from Covid effects. The brain’s messages told me I would pass out. I felt stressed and clammy. Among eight colleagues, one noticed. “Are you okay, Denise?” I couldn’t feign the feelings. I couldn’t pass on a tale about my obvious gray, sweaty Covid fog.
Linking awareness to facilitation begins with the individual. Awareness can be as simple as my Covid discomfort to silence to exercise to strolls in nature. I practice attentiveness daily as a skill. The most effective leaders I have worked with are circumspect. They are men and women of character. They listen and respond efficiently. The two open opportunities to propel work onward from challenges.
Insight to detect questions from lies in a group setting is part of a facilitator’s toolkit.
Below are only a few Facilitator Challenges. When presented, the facilitator cannot pretend to navigate participatory interaction among members.
(A full book of “Classic Facilitator Challenges” comes from the Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making.)
|Problem||Typical Mistake||Effective Response|
|Minimal participation||Assumption that silence is agreement; Ignoring silence||Propose a Discussion (even if you go off your tightly timed agenda). Pairs to explore more. With PD organizers, assess reasons for passivity. This is certain to occur with discussions centered on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion|
|Someone makes a comment that may be offensive||Whatever you say might be interpreted as your messing up. If you don’t confront the offensive remark, part of the group will see you as being passive. If you do confront the remark directly, another part of the group will see you as advancing your own agenda and complicit to pressure from a special interest.||The Group’s culture and values matter here: Ask, “Are there any responses to what x said?” “X, are you open to feedback on what you just said?” (This is doable with groups who have adopted a giving/receiving feedback norm) Wait to see the impact of a comment. If there is one, point it out and have the group discuss it. Dealing with ‘offensive comments’ is uncomfortable. Ignoring it is worse, possibly.|
Leaders, who facilitate, design group dynamics. They observe. They respond to bird walkers who stroll away from intended outcomes. Leaders keep dialogue on point towards objectives. They redirect lies with questions. They coalesce groups to shared responsibilities. They respond to offensive input.
They “gather diverse points of view. They build a shared framework of understanding. They develop inclusive solutions. They reach closure” as acceptable for the group (p. xxiv).
Discovery with ST Consulting designs professional development. I also guide facilitators to address challenges in organizations, communities, and their roles to deliver effective responses in group settings. Do you want to develop as a facilitator for the 21st Century? Contact me.
The power of facilitation teaches!