What If George Washington Lied?

What If George Washington Lied?

 What If George Washington Lied?

February 22nd is George Washington's birthday and I remember a story about his childhood.

It’s reported that George chopped down a cherry tree, and when his irate father saw the damage and asked his son if he knew who did the deed, George owned up: "I cannot tell a lie."

But what if George had lied? What if he’d denied being the culprit? What if he’d insisted that it must have been the act of some other kid with an axe? Would his father have been able to detect the deception?

A frustrated parent asking, “Did you eat that candy?” will have a chocolate-covered toddler answering, “No!” in order to remove the stern expression from a caregiver’s face. Three- and four-year olds tell tall tales and create imaginary friends. By the time they are about seven, children start to lie to avoid doing chores or homework, to get something they want, to protect someone else, and to avoid punishment. And, of course, teenagers lie to cover up sexual activity, drug or alcohol use, and (almost always) about what time they actually got home last night.

When children are telling the truth, they are most often relaxed, with facial expressions and gestures that reflect this. But when lying, they undergo a heightened stress response that can be spotted by an observant parent. (As we grow older, we also grow better at deception - and it is not so easy to discover.)

So if George had responded in the negative when asked about the tree-chopping incident, his father could have watched for signs of a dry mouth (and the lip licking that accompanies it), eye contact that suddenly can’t be held or, conversely, is held too intently, an increased blink rate, face touching, squirming, biting the lips or tightly squeezing them together, head and shoulder movements that are arrested part way into the gesture, and a smile that appears at inappropriate times.

Mr. Washington might also have spotted a telltale “micro expression” (a genuine emotion that flashes across someone’s face in less than one-fifth of a second) or a “suppressed expression” which slips out before realized and is then “caught” and replaced with a preferred reaction.

Another deception cue he might have observed was his son’s rigid posture and lack of spontaneous hand gestures. Many liars “tighten up” and inhibit their natural body language – as if afraid that any movement will expose the falsehood.

George’s dad should also have been advised to note the timing of his son’s verbal response. When a lie is planned (and rehearsed), deceivers start their answers more quickly than truth-tellers. If taken by surprise, however, the liar takes longer to respond – as the process of inhibiting the truth and creating a lie takes extra time. And he should have been on the watch for a variety of stalling tactics fibbers use while trying to figure out how to respond: Liars tend to repeat the question you just asked, make irrelevant statements to divert attention, or try to put you on the defensive.

So – was the George Washington boyhood story true? Maybe. But, if not, I hope his father caught the lie.



As an international keynote speaker (in person and virtually) I present programs on "Leadership Presence" and "The Power of Presence for Women Who Lead" -- both of which emphasize the role of body language in helping - or hurting - a leader's ability to positively impact and influence others.


1) Leadership Presence is a blending of personal and interpersonal skills that when combined, send all the right signals and make you stand out as the talented professional you really are. As a leadership presence coach, I can help you do that!

2) My newest book is available on multiple websites and in bookstores. In it you'll get tips and strategies for projecting Confidence, Credibility, Composure, Connection and Charisma. (If you purchase it and love it, please leave a review.) Here is the link on Amazon: Stand Out: How to Build Your Leadership Presence

3) My most popular LinkedIn Learning video course (with over 2 million views) was recently updated. Here's a preview: Body Language for Leaders

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For more information, contact me by email Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com, or visit my website www.CarolKinseyGoman.com.

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  • Aaron Max

    Excellent article

  • Ray Upton

    A man who is given absolute power but turns it down is worthy of Legend.

  • William Hull

    Despite his faults I still feel that Washington is morally superior to most people who would be in his time.

  • Tim Davis

    He probably didn't lie !

  • Kelly Mclawrence

    And now he's rolling in his grave watching our country go up in flames of idiocy

  • Brendan Fraser

    George Washington was a master at not being perfect, but he carried the entire early states on his shoulders...

  • Craig Weale

    The man, the myth, the legend, George Washington.

  • Justin A

    I'm sure he would be disgusted by the state of our union with our political parties waring with each other

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Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

Leadership Expert

Carol is an international keynote speaker at conferences, business organizations, government agencies, and universities. She addresses a variety of leadership issues, but specializes in helping leaders build their impact and influence skills for fostering collaboration, building trust, and projecting that illusive quality called "leadership presence." She is the author of "STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence." and the creator of LinkedIn Learning's video course, "Body Language for Leaders." Carol completed her doctorate in the United States. She can be reached at http://CarolKinseyGoman.com

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