Have you noticed that trust is disappearing?
As I sat on my back porch watching Una the yellow lab guide dog puppy and Daisy, our Brittany frolic in an effort to corner one of the squirrels, it struck me how far we’ve fallen as a society. There was a time when honesty was an unimpeachable virtue to be celebrated and developed. Today, it seems, there is far more interest in dishonesty that leaves the listener placated and believing what makes them most comfortable.
Truth seems unwelcome.
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
One of the reasons I find science so comforting has historically been my belief in its objectivity:
- make an educated guess (hypothesis),
- design an experiment to test the guess,
- verify the guess, disprove it, or alter it and retry.
Unfortunately, as has become more and more obvious to me recently, this idealistic perspective of science is rarely reflected in reality. Instead, the process goes more like this:
- make a claim of something desired to be true
- design an experiment to prove its truth to others
- modify, falsify, ignore, or destroy data that doesn’t support the claim
This happens across the board and for people as diverse as religious leaders and hardened earth scientists. The interest in truth seems to be effectively nonexistent, while the drive to claim and prove has expanded exponentially.
“There are three types of lies — lies, damn lies, and statistics.” — Benjamin Disraeli
This leads the honest to answer two foundational questions:
- Does it matter to me whether or not I am truthful? And
- How will I behave in the face of this deception?
As a person long committed to truth, honesty, and integrity — perhaps partially the result of a youth often spent deceiving others in an effort to improve my standing with them — I had to decide how I would respond. It took an adjustment to my traditional approach to relationships, which had been, “Trust until evidence of deceit is clear.” Given recent experiences, living that way is no longer supportable. Now, it’s closer to Ronald Reagan’s famous line, “Trust, but verify.” Which is to say, “Recognize that others will try to deceive for their own benefit.”
I am mourning the passing of my naive outlook.
“Those who have failed to work toward the truth have missed the purpose of living” — Buddha
“You shall not speak falsely to others” — the 9th Commandment
“And, do not cloak (and confuse) the truth with falsehood. Do not suppress the truth knowingly.” — Quran, 2:42
The second decision is about my own words and behavior: do I want to compromise my strict commitment to honesty and integrity in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is often not the path to the outcome I might want.
“Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is.” — Barbara Bush
For this decision, I was aided by Earl Nightingale as I listened once again to his wonderful album, “Lead the Field”:
“It’s possible to get rich without enriching others, but for most of us, it’s not the way we want to go. It’s nothing to take pride in. Why bother when there are so many positive, excellent, and productive ways to serve others?” — Earl Nightingale
Yes. It’s worth it to me. I want to be honest. I want to know I have done my best and done so with good intentions, honestly, and with complete integrity.
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
What about you? How will you speak and behave? How will you respond to those who lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want, even if their intentions might be good?
My encouragement to you is to take on the discipline of doing what you say, of honestly seeking truth, and of altering your perspective to match that truth to the very best of your ability.
“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” — Adolf Hitler
Be a person of character. Sleep is so much sweeter when we are!