Integrity Matters
August 8, 2007

Many resort to lies in effort to avoid the truth

Question: (E-301)
Why do people lie?

Fear and arrogance motivate liars. Malicious intent exists, but mostly among criminals. So let's focus on folks we encounter, almost daily:

Worried that the truth will upset or possibly even anger someone, run-of-the-mill fabricators color truth with lies. Wanting to sidestep the pain, prevaricators choose to "perfume the pig" by glossing over their disappointing performance, whether regarding a student grade card, quarterly business report or marital misbehavior. Children do not want their privileges taken away any more than lying adults (or adulterers) want to face serious reprisals from those with whom they work and live. Measuring their responses to skirt the truth, they set themselves up for complicated days of reckoning, somewhere down the road.

"O, what a tattered web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!" - Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), "Marmion."

Walter Isaacson's "Kissinger: A Biography" suggests: "To withhold information and even allow a listener to be misled . . . comes close to the definition of deceit."

Those who manipulate others with purposefully-structured inadequate information and defend their actions with "but you didn't ask" are wolves in sheep's clothing. Do business with these folks only one time. In a more folksy tone, Kin Hubbard (1868-1930) writes in "Abe Martin's Sayings," "The feller that agrees with everythin' you say is either a fool or he is a gettin' ready to skin you."

Arrogance encourages the parsing of words, fueling social and economic corruption. Feeling, or at least acting superior to others, haughty egotists believe their lack of consistency - including truth-telling, follow-through and honoring commitments - will be forgotten, ignored or simply accepted. Their real or perceived superiority complex, driven by wealth, education or some artificial social claim, was well understood by 17th-century French author, Francois La Rochefoucauld:, who wrote: "What renders us so bitter against those who trick us is that they believe themselves to be [cleverer] than we are."

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1841, wrote: "Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but [also] is a stab at the health of human society. In 1647, Baltasar Gracian, wrote in the "Art of Worldly Wisdom": "A single lie destroys a whole reputation for integrity."

More recently, horrible power-brokers like Adolf Hitler leveraged the impact of lies, having clearly understood: "the great masses of the people . . . will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one." ("Mein Kampf," 1924)

Physician, writer and poet, Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1858 offers this insight: "Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all."

Integrity requires relentless truth-telling, so, do your part. Remember, graciousness is essential when presenting hard-truths.

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