If you ask my wife what she hates most about arguing with me—and please don’t, because what kind of friend would do that?—she’ll tell you it’s that I always exaggerate.
She exaggerates, of course. I only exaggerate most of the time.
After 26 years of marriage, maybe I should knock it off.
But why should I have to?
Exaggeration is both time-honored and semi-respectable.
“I’m exaggerating to make a point,” it’s acceptable to say.
Exaggeration is a habit that’s hard to break.
But then again, so is accuracy. Readers of this blog wouldn’t be scandalized to learn that I made up an anecdote here or created a composite character there. But once a journalist, always a journalist; you wouldn’t believe the small points of factual correctness that I agonize over before pushing “publish” on little ole Writing Boots.
Pilots are known to almost never fudge their flying hours in their logbooks, such pride do they take in the hours they have legitimately earned. So why do they tell their spouses it took two hours to drive home when it only took one? Don’t they take pride in the trust they have earned at home?
Or have they, like so many of us apparently, become resigned to our shriveled credibility on the domestic scene, content like paid cable news hacks to represent the expected point of view, to improvise our assigned part in the never-ending off–off Broadway production, in the most compelling way the situation and our daily daring allow?
Or are we all just trying to survive, like a bunch of rhetorical wolverines, in the most dangerous, scarcest habitat on earth, our own kitchen? (Another form of exaggeration, of course; rhetorical raccoons, more like.)
Still: As much as most Americans I know bellyache about extremist views, political spin and irresponsible rhetoric—we sure do engage in a lot of it ourselves. If we believe our own bullshit about national unity in Washington and social civility, maybe we should kickstart the process by exhibiting a little personal integrity at home.
So the question isn’t, why should I have to stop exaggerating, it’s actually:
Years ago, my pal Paul had quit cigarettes using a recently-invented smoking cessation device.
“Does that thing really work?” his buddy Ed said.
“Well, Eddie, you have to want to quit,” Paul said.
“Yeah, I knew it didn’t work,” Eddie said.
(And accuracy compels me to tell you that ultimately, Eddie was right: Paul is still smoking today.)