I have been thinking a lot about truth and honesty lately. It seems to be a topic that permeates the public landscape and is casually volleyed around the 24-hour news cycle alongside the word “fact”. Both terms are frequently used – but are seemingly infrequently used with sincerity or accuracy.
Merriam-Webster defines the word “honesty” as: fairness and straightforwardness of conduct: adherence to the facts.
“Flexibility of the facts” seems to have become a foundation of modern culture and somehow we have lost sight of the actual fact that we built a society around the idea of truth, honesty and fairness. The Honor Code, George Washington and the cherry tree …even our grade school “lost and found” is based on the honesty and integrity of others. We seem to have disregarded the notion that our behavior should match our values and our words should reflect both. While “the truth can set you free”, at this time in our history, it feels more like deceit holds the key to wealth, power and more importantly …the admiration of others.
I acknowledge that there are the acceptable “fabrications” like Santa and the Easter Bunny – only meant to enhance the imagination. And of course, there are questions like how your wife looks in that new dress that are better answered with kindness than brutal honesty. But the big stuff – the major omissions of information and flat out lying — really starts with a comfort in the little stuff…
• I don’t know how that broke.
• Sorry I’m late, I got stuck in traffic.
• I just need 5 minutes of your time.
• I didn’t get your email / text / voicemail.
• I’m busy that night.
• I was working late.
• You’ll earn big on that investment.
• I was “hiking the Appalachian Trail…”
• And so on….
I am not here to condemn mankind and I am not implying we are all lying, cheating scoundrels. In fact, I believe that humans are inherently good and act with integrity most of the time. I simply share Noel Coward’s discouragement in “how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.” I am saddened that — from the elementary school playground to the college football field to our nation’s capital — competition has become king, winning has come to outweigh an honest day’s work.
So perhaps it is worth considering how we are participating in this redefinition of honesty. Are we perpetuating behaviors by looking the other way or feigning oblivion? Are we allowing common sense to be overruled by the loudest and most frequently heard voice? Are we focused on winning or fair play? Are we presenting the facts or perpetuating a lie? And more importantly … Do we even know the difference?