Recently an e-mail exchange with an idiot who shall forever remain anonymous has made me think about an interesting trait of pathological liars. Since I won’t be sharing the contents of that exchange, I will direct the viewer to the Youtube channel of Don Shipley, retired Navy SEAL. I’m sharing this with the readers because Shipley has a very entertaining hobby- he busts people who go around claiming to be former SEALs and posts the results on the internet. Below you can see one such example:
As one might expect, most of these phony SEALs exhibit very similar behavior. Many of them, for example, react with confusion when he asks them for their BUD/S class number, as though they never thought such a question would come up. Another common thread is that when they get evasive, Don tells them how he’d react if someone doubted that he or one of his colleagues were ever SEALs. He could rattle off his class number, the names of instructors, events during training, people in his class, teams he served with, and so on.
In the exchange I had, I asked the individual repeatedly whether he’d ever been to Russia and whether he spoke Russian. He avoided answering both questions numerous times until he finally made a pathetic attempt to “prove” he knew Russian; he wrote one basic word. He also claimed he’d been in Russia before me. He didn’t say when or in what capacity, and thereafter he claimed he wouldn’t read any more replies to his message.
I have to wonder if people like that actually think their lies are convincing. If he had answered the first time I asked I probably would have taken his word. All he had to say is something like “I spent about a year and a half in Russia from 2002-2004 studying the language,” and that would have been convincing enough for the sake of argument. I’ll usually take someone’s word if they claim to speak or at least understand Russian, but for proof one could simply link me to a video in Russian with their own commentary on the content or perhaps cite a Russian quote out of some Russian-press article and give me their own opinion about it. I typically hate typing in Russian but if someone doesn’t believe I understand it they’re welcome to write to me exclusively in Russian. My point is that I was willing to take this guy at his word until he started getting real evasive and basically turning every question into “NO U!” The dude had a free pass and he blew it.
Suppose I was living back in the US, and after a year or so I’m telling someone about my experiences in Russia. Someone overhears me and says, “You lived in Russia? That’s bullshit!” First, I can obviously speak Russian at a high level, but to be fair that is theoretically possible to do in the US if you are extremely dedicated. I could offer to bring my passports next time so they could see my multiple visas. But probably the best proof I can offer on the spot is simply rattling off such a myriad of details and encyclopedic information about Russia and various locations in Russia to the point where my doubter would regret ever bringing up the topic in the first place. If the price is right, I’ll happily go on stage and lecture about Russia for hours on end, with little details, anecdotes, commentary, and the like.
What I would not do, is get defensive and start demanding that my questioner prove his credentials. I realize that an American living for nearly a decade in Russia with no obviously discernible reason may not be an example of an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence, but it is certainly out of the ordinary to some extent. Therefore such questions are not particularly threatening to me, since any reasonable person would conclude I’m telling the truth based on the details I give and the fact that I could explain the same things in Russian.
When a person is bullshitting, they usually get defensive. Aside from total sociopaths and pathological liars, they realize that they’ve walked into a minefield when someone asks their BUD/S class number or other detailed questions. They know there are things about the life they’re claiming which they do not know. That’s why they get defensive and vague. I could rattle off all sorts of details from my time in the military which may seem totally innocuous to a civilian, but anyone in the military would say, “Yeah, the poor bastard’s telling the truth.”
So let this be a lesson to you next time someone is telling you a story that doesn’t seem to add up. People who have actually done things, often extraordinary things, don’t typically get upset if their listeners are a bit skeptical. Bullshitters evade, get defensive, and after much squirming come up with vague answers which are typically impossible to verify. It’s just like that neckbeard you know who brags about his romantic conquest of “this one chick,” an incredibly promiscuous young woman who always lives “in another town” and who has an insatiable lust for hefty young men of questionable hygiene and poor social skills. Young people should definitely take this lesson to heart as they enter college, the military, or the workplace. You’ll run into a lot of these types in life.
PS- Please don’t ask about the identity of the individual whose e-mail prompted this. While I may not respect the person, I do respect their privacy and I decry the stalkerish tactic of “calling out” private individuals on the internet.