The problem of embellishment: Not just the work of fishermen and politicians


Many people, myself included, had a little chuckle when yet another politician is caught by good ole videotape. Senator Clinton turns her trip to Bosnia in 1996 into something designed to play up her experiences with foreign diplomacy. She made it seem that she had to dodge sniper fire on her way from the plane to a waiting car. Now, the country wasn’t a picnic at that time, but neither did she have to dodge bullets. After first defending her account she now admits mis-speaking (notice she didn’t say she mis-represented the fact). 

But Senator Clinton isn’t the only one who does this. In fact, I would suggest that we ALL embellish every day. We just don’t have video to catch us in the act. Here’s some possible examples for you to consider:

You leave for an appointment late and the “traffic was bad.” It may have been heavy traffic but the emphasis on the traffic deftly misdirects to a different (and wrong) cause and effect.  You were late because you didn’t plan well.

You tell someone that you are friends with _____ (someone you look up to and met once or twice but only on a superficial basis). You do this in order to sound more important.

You tell someone you spent all day cleaning. In actuality, you cleaned at several times during the day but you also watched a movie and surfed the web for an hour. You play up your work in order to make your point. Sadly, when we do it enough, we actually believe what we are saying.

Sometimes, embellishment just helps us make a point or tell a story. I’m not sure it is sinful. It may be that some of the OT numbers are there for story and point-making more than an exact headcount. But, of course embellishment is a problem when we do it to avoid the reality of the truth or to gain something that does not rightfully belong to us. So, let us endeavor to tell the truth and worry less about what others think of us.

Oh, did I tell you that Sen. Barack Obama sent me an email yesterday. Really, he did. 😉 

2 Comments

Filed under Cognitive biases, News and politics, self-deception, sin

2 responses to “The problem of embellishment: Not just the work of fishermen and politicians

  1. Scott Knapp, MS

    I have a counselee who takes embellishment to the extremes. This boy has learned to lie at any time it suits his purposes, and he will fight to the death to avoid being cornered by the facts. His typical ploy is to lure his confronters into a battle of wills, and the ground rules are essentially, “if you can convince ME that I’m wrong, then you’ve won your case!” He’s a master at seducing staff into no-win arguments like these. Recently we’ve been able to catch his problematic behavior and speech on our nearly ubiquitous camera video system, and even then he’ll claim we’re not understanding what he’s doing or interpreting it correctly. The spirit behind embellishment, I think, is the same spirit behind the outright lie…only we distinguish the varying degrees of intensity…and I think counselors and their great egos engage in embellishing our level of experience and expertise to our clients and even to each other, worse than most professions!!!

  2. Wow! What did Sen. Obama say to you? Getting an e-mail from a senator (as long as it’s not one of those form e-mails) is pretty sweet! I’d be much more likely to vote for someone who called or e-mailed me, you know? 🙂 I saw this car in the mall area absolutely covered with “Obama for President” stuff. It was great. I love that PA matters this election year. It’s sort of exciting!

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