Does it bother you when someone lies to you? It bothers me. And I just learned astonishing new information about people who repeatedly tell lies.
According to British neuroscientists, brain scans of the amygdala—the area in the brain that responds to unpleasant emotional experiences—show that the brain becomes desensitized with each successive lie.
In other words, the more someone lies, the less that person’s brain reacts to it. And the easier it is for him or her to lie the next time.
These researchers concluded that “little white lies,” usually considered harmless, really aren’t harmless at all because they can lead to big fat falsehoods. “What begins as small acts of dishonesty can escalate into larger transgressions.”
This study seems terribly relevant right now. Our political leaders (one in particular, along with some of his cohorts) have often been caught telling lies. When these leaders set out on a course of telling lies, watch out. They’re likely to keep doing it. And it doesn’t bother them a bit.
Let’s hope our free press remains truly free, ferrets out the lies that impact our lives, and points them out to the rest of us whenever they can.
[This study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience and noted in the January-February 2017 issue of the AARP Bulletin.]
When did “waiting for” become “waiting on”?
Am I the only English-speaking person who still says “waiting for”?
I’ve been speaking English my entire life, and the phrase “waiting on” has always meant what waiters or waitresses did. Likewise, salesclerks in a store. They “waited on” you.
“Waiting for” was an entirely different act. In a restaurant, you—the patron—decide to order something from the menu. Then you begin “waiting for” it to arrive.
Similarly: Even though you’re ready to go somewhere, don’t you sometimes have to “wait for” someone before you can leave?
Here are three titles you may have come across. First, did you ever hear of the 1935 Clifford Odets play “Waiting for Lefty”? (Although it isn’t performed a lot these days, it recently appeared on stage in the Bay Area.) In Odets’s play, a group of cabdrivers “wait for” someone named Lefty to arrive. While they wait for him, they debate whether they should go on strike.
Even better known, Samuel Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot,” is still alive and well and being performed almost everywhere. [You can read a little bit about this play—and the two pronunciations of “Godot”—in my blog post, “Crawling through Literature in the Pubs of Dublin, Ireland,” published in April 2016.] The lead characters in the play are forever waiting for “Godot,” usually acknowledged as a substitute for “God,” who never shows up.
A more recent example is the 1997 film, “Waiting for Guffman.” The cast of a small-town theater group anxiously waits for a Broadway producer named Guffman to appear, hoping that he’ll like their show. Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, who co-wrote and starred in the film, were pretty clearly referring to “Waiting for Godot” when they wrote it.
Can anyone imagine replacing “Waiting for” in these titles with “Waiting on”?
Yet everywhere I go, I constantly hear people say that they’re “waiting on” a friend to show up or “waiting on” something to happen.
This usage has even pervaded Harvard Magazine. In a recent issue, an article penned by an undergraduate included this language: “[T]hey aren’t waiting on the dean…to make the changes they want to see.”
Hey, undergrad, I’m not breathlessly waiting for your next piece of writing! Why? Because you should have said “waiting for”!
Like many of the changes in English usage I’ve witnessed in recent years, this one sounds very wrong to me.
Have you heard this one?
Thanks to scholars at the U. of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Harvard Business School, I’ve just learned that workers who tell jokes—even bad ones—can boost their chances of being viewed by their co-workers as more confident and more competent.
Joking is a form of humor, and humor is often seen as a sign of intelligence and a good way to get ideas across to others. But delivering a joke well also demands sensitivity and some regard for the listeners’ emotions.
The researchers, who ran experiments involving 2,300 participants, were trying to gauge responses to joke-tellers. They specifically wanted to assess the impact of joking on an individual’s status at work.
In one example, participants had to rate individuals who explained a service that removed pet waste from customers’ yards. This example seems ripe for joke-telling, and sure enough, someone made a joke about it.
Result? The person who told the joke was rated as more competent and higher in status than those who didn’t.
In another example, job-seekers were asked to suggest a creative use for an old tire. One of them joked, “Someone doing CrossFit could use it for 30 minutes, then tell you about it forever.” This participant was rated higher in status than two others, who either made an inappropriate joke about a condom or made a serious suggestion (“Make a tire swing out of it.”).
So jokes work—but only if they’re appropriate.
Even jokes that fell flat led participants to rate a joke-teller as highly confident. But inappropriate or insensitive jokes don’t do a joke-teller any favors because they can have a negative impact.
Common sense tells me that the results of this study also apply in a social setting. Telling jokes to your friends is almost always a good way to enhance your relationship—as long as you avoid offensive and insensitive jokes.
The take-away: If you can tell an appropriate joke to your colleagues and friends, they’re likely to see you as confident and competent.
So next time you need to explain something to others, in your workplace or in any another setting, try getting out one of those dusty old joke books and start searching for just the right joke.
[This study, reported in The Wall Street Journal on January 18, 2017, and revisited in the same publication a week later, appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.]