…the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Really?
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in court and have been sworn in as a witness. Raise your hand now if you’ve ever been in court under any circumstances. Ok, raise your hand if you’ve ever SEEN a court hearing on TV? All hands should be up.
We are very familiar with this phrase and what it implies. The message is that what is said “in a court of law” is the truth. If you don’t tell the truth, you are guilty of what is called perjury and, if so, you are in trouble. There are even many legal documents that have you sign “…under penalty of perjury…” which is to say that if you sign here, you are swearing, by your signature, that it’s the truth.
And it is…often NOT the truth.
I like this topic, for various reasons. First of all, because I am a truthful person. I don’t believe in lying, and I am offended when people lie to me. It’s as though they don’t respect me as a person so they’d rather give me some malarkey rather than be honest with me.
Also, I’m a Rotarian. We have a “code” that Rotarians live by called The 4-Way Test. The purpose of The 4-Way Test is to evaluate that “in all we think, say, and do…” we are holding ourselves to ethical and moral standards. Being truthful and honest is so important to The 4-Way Test that it is statement #1:
Is it the TRUTH?
While there are three other statements we have to pass to comply with The 4-Way Test, consider that if your thought or action doesn’t pass statement #1, what’s the point of continuing. In other words, if it isn’t TRUE does anything else matter?
This morning, I happened to see a segment on The Today Show about a new book just released by author James B. Stewart entitled Tangled Webs which explores how high-profile cases of perjury are not only undermining our judicial system, but in some ways, the very fabric of our society. Mr. Stewart talks about several “celebrity” cases such as the Bernie Madoff fiasco, Barry Bonds’ lying about steroid use, Martha Stewart’s insider trading debacle and others. The point he was making is that celebs who perjure themselves in the stand in court are rarely held accountable, even though people know they are lying. It almost comes down to how good of liars they are, not whether or not they are telling the truth, that gets them off.
The “truth” is, that this is not only what happens in celeb cases, but it also happens in true life. The “truth” is not valued the way it used to be. I have personally seen egregious cases of documented, written perjury, where the lies were spelled out in clear text. Yet, in spite of all the contradictions, and even lies told on the stand, no one was held accountable for the untruths that were told.
The ramifications are huge. If “truth” doesn’t mean anything, then what can we depend on? I am not talking about differences in perspective or opinion, by the way…those things happen and we have to take those into account. But, in the Bernie Madoff example Mr. Stewart talks about, Mr. Madoff didn’t just lie once…he lied over, and over, and over again, and didn’t have any issues with his lack of ethics. Ok, I know that there are unethical people, but we are talking about documented, repeated lies, for which he should have been caught years before the final decline – but no one was willing to call him to accountability. The result: many people were bilked out of millions and millions of dollars. That might not have happened if someone had just called him on his lies early on.
Downstream, there are effects on other aspects of society. Why do we require so many contracts? Well, because we can no longer depend on someone’s handshake to be their word. Our kids are learning that the 11th commandment is “Don’t Get Caught” but they don’t believe lying or cheating is a big deal, evidenced by recent studies that show more than 2/3rds of high school students have cheated on a test. We can’t trust or believe, because we know that people will tell us anything we want to hear just to make inroads, to get out of trouble, or to make themselves into more than they really are.
For me, I don’t get it. The truth is SO simple. If you lie, you are introducing complexity. You may be lying to cover something you shouldn’t have done, but now you have twice the burden to deal with: first the wrong you did, and second the lie you told to cover. I know there are pathological liars out there…I’ve been exposed to several, and they are the exception to the rule. But the “convenient” or “intentional” liars, I don’t get because you know from the very first word that you are going to have to track what you say, be sure you repeat it well…and don’t forget to learn to trick body language that gives away most liars.
If we can’t depend on the “truth,” there’s not much else we can believe in. If the leaders of our country can’t be depended on, why do we trust them to lead? If our parents can be honest with their children, is it a wonder that they lie and fib. When the excuse for the why high-profile individuals make up lies and falsehoods is “because they can get away with it,” it’s clear that it is OUR job — those people who believe in truth — to make sure they are held accountable to this fundamental truth.