As 2022 draws to a close, perhaps some of you are thinking about New Year's Resolutions I have written about that in past New Year's blogs, and some of the replies that have been shared with me related more with failure to keep those resolutions than with the resolutions themselves. In short, many people admit that even when they made the resolution they knew they wouldn't keep it. They were just lying to themselves. So, this year, rather than writing about New Year's Resolutions I am going to share some thoughts on telling the truth.
"In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
George Orwell, author
Several weeks ago, I was watching television and an author was talking about his book, titled, "The Post-Truth Era. Ralph Keyes is not a professor. He lives in Ohio and writes articles for magazines such as Esquire and Good Housekeeping. He has appeared on The Today Show and was on Oprah. I did not anticipate a scholarly book when I ordered "Post Truth," nor is it one. I was surprised when the book arrived to learn that it was published in 2004, now 2 decades ago. His subtitle is "Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life," which reveals that the topic is not particularly new, as my next quote makes clear.
The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.
Laozi, ancient philosopher
When I began reading Ralph Keyes' book he soon explained the he was not going to write about "all lies and every liar." What he was focusing on was "concern about casual lying, its effect on how we deal with each other, and on society as a whole." In fact, he believed the casual lie was getting worse. That led me to ask myself, is dishonesty getting worse? It seems to me that it is, but one thing is certain, lying had been around for a long time, and our founding fathers have had something to say about it!
Half a truth is often a great lie.
Rearching for a more recent American philosopher, I turned to that great thinker--bless his cotton-picken-heart--Elvis Presley, who said:
Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time,
but it ain't goin' away.
The author of The Post-Truth Era was pretty hard on lawyers, suggesting that truth and lies in the courtroom do not mean the same thing as they do one the street. When I was a practicing attorney, I prepared many people for testifying in court and in preparing for depositions, and I never told anyone to lie. I did tell them, however, not to allow opposing counsel to put words in their mouths. Answer yes or no if the question is clear and specific, but if he has tucked in extra details that aren't accurate, don't accept his question as appropriate for a yes or no answer. "I don't know, I don't understand, and I don't remember" are perfectly appropriate answers, if you really don't know, understand, or remember. If you watch the news, you may know that an attorney has put himself in a difficult place by instructing his client to say "I don't remember," not because she did not remember but rather as a way to avoid answering the question. Apparently she was told that she would be safe to avoid answering the question, because 'no one could know whether she remembered or not.' Bad Advice!
There are few reasons for telling the truth, but for lying, the number is infinite.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon, novelist
While it might be possible that someone could get away with pretending not to remember, the truth is that once discovered the pretense is grounds for prosecution because the person had lied under oath.
Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters
cannot be trusted with important matters.
Ralph Keyes concludes his book by saying that 10% are ethical by nature, that a different 10% have no ethical inclination at all, but 80% move back and forth, depending on circumstances. It seemed to me when I grew up in a small community, honesty was admired and generally practiced by most people. Perhaps that was because dishonest people were known and those doing business with them knew better than to do business on a handshake.
Maybe lying to ourselves with a resolution to stick to a diet which only lasts until the first bowl of ice cream tempts us is not important, but I am still idealistic enough to believe that our "Post-Truth" era is a threat. As S. Somerset Maugham said, "The fact that a great many people believe something is no guarantee of its truth."