Most of us exaggerate from time to time.
The tendency is particularly prevalent among children and the young, and is an inevitable part of growing up. We tend to exaggerate, for example, when we experiment with language, or when we attempt to impress our peers, or when we have a teenage outburst (‘my sister hates me!’ ‘I’ll never love anyone ever again!’ ‘If I don’t get a smartphone I’ll die!’ etc.)
As we mature we exaggerate less, but it is surprising how many adults still do so regularly. Sometimes its purpose is to make us feel important or influential – or provide some excitement into a drab day – but whatever our motives might be, any gains tend to be short term. The person who is apt to exaggerate habitually risks many undesirable consequences, not least of which is the loss of the respect and the trust of others. To quote Josh Billings: ‘There are some people so addicted to exaggeration that they can’t tell the truth without lying’.
But some would disagree with knocking the technique: one of the most talked-about men on the planet, Donald Trump, proudly promotes such a tactic in his book ‘The Art of the Deal’ (1987):
“I call it truthful hyperbole…it’s a very effective form of promotion.”
This business philosophy carried over into his presidential campaign and is a key part of his communication arsenal – Politico Magazine cited at least 82 blatant ‘exaggerations’ over 71 days as president elect – and recent evidence suggests that it is a tactic he has no intention of modifying. And why should he? Who can say that this hasn’t worked for him?
It most certainly has, but at a profound cost. His numerous exaggerations, falsehoods and his indifference to scientific fact have helped to make him the deeply divisive figure that he is today.
If he is ever going to unite Americans (as he promised to do in his acceptance speech), perhaps he needs to reduce such regular embroidery. We told him this* when we met him** some years ago. We often speak on the phone*** so we hope to have the opportunity to advise him again.
But perhaps Voltaire had it right some 300 years ago when he described exaggeration to be the ‘inseparable companion of greatness’.
Key to our ‘truthful hyperbole’:
* can’t recall our exact words
** saw him coming out of Trump Tower
*** we do, just not to each other