Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For September 26 weekender, 2015
Just Tell the Truth
David W. Hegg
When I was young I remember a television game show entitled “To Tell The Truth.” Three people would face a celebrity panel of questioners, but only one of them was telling the truth about their occupation. At the end, each of the celebrities would guess which of them was telling the truth.
It seems we are all caught up in an episode of “to tell the truth” but it stopped being a game long ago. Now it is life, and everyday we are faced with those who lie for a living, or so it seems.
Remember when a former president parsed the word “is” so carefully he could hide his reckless behavior behind the façade of grammar? Apparently his success in minimizing the damage of his actions through a stunning ability to shade, spin, and reform the truth has emboldened a new way of public life. He lied with a straight face, and did it in such a robust fashion we assumed he had to be telling the truth. After all, no normal, moral person would be so adamant and blatant in intentionally deceiving the nation.
What we are seeing now is a plague only slightly less dangerous than Ebola, and even that characterization might be understated. Simply put, we are almost never able to determine who is telling the truth these days. No matter which news agency you turn to, you’ll be treated to a series of statements from many of our leaders or wanna be’s, in which – over time – they proudly announce they are on both sides of an issue.
First they are for abortion and then they are adamantly against it. First they are against same-sex marriage and then they are all for it. First they didn’t have a private email account, and then they admit they did, and then they apologize for it, and then they declare it was never illegal in the first place. First they were for the war, and then against it, and then for it again. First there were WMDs, and then they weren’t sure, and then they apologized, and then … You get the picture.
I could add to that list others like Nixon, Agnew, and the Watergate gang, and a whole host of professional athletes and business leaders who have learned the value of lying just long enough to allow the media spotlight to shine on some other story.
But perhaps the most damning evidence of our growing culture of deceit is the news 32 million – mostly men – have followed the anonymous road of sexual perversion to the shores of Ashley Madison. Or at least they thought it was anonymous. And if that weren’t bad enough, we now know hundreds of clergymen were among them. Stories are popping up all over of pastors and priests and bishops and seminary professors resigning in shame. One even ended his life rather than face the truth. It seems the national epidemic of lying to self and others is an equal-opportunity tragedy. Of all the lies, those coming in and from the lives of those who preach truth and morality stand out as the most egregious.
Here’s the deal: We all need to look inside. What kind of people are we? What is wrong with our collective soul and conscience that allows us to perpetrate lies and duplicitous acts on our families and neighbors? Have we, like addicts, begun with little white lies (whatever those are!), and slowly become anesthetized to the insidious toxin of deceit? Worse, is the rampant disregard for truth now playing out in the emerging generation the result of having watched their parents play fast and loose with it?
In Psalm 15 the author begins with a penetrating question: “Who wants to live near to the Almighty?” Those who accept the invitation find in the rest of the psalm some advice. One is this: “Speak truth in your heart.” That is, start by telling yourself the truth rather than denying it, or scheming to rationalize it. Admit to yourself that wrong is wrong, and right is right. And then, as you speak to others, be true to yourself by being truthful to them.
I don’t know just how deeply our national character has been, or is being corrupted by the pervasive deceit now evident on the stage of society. But I do know the answer isn’t simply to call our leaders and heroes to tell the truth. The strength of America has always been its people. When the people rise up – ordinary folks like you and me – and demand truth of ourselves, we will no longer stand for leaders who consider it a tool to be used how and when best advances their cause. Truth must have its day if we are to remain strong. Let’s put truth back where it belongs … in the hearts of every American.