Truth and Trust

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking • For March 25 weekender, 2017

Truth and Trust

David W. Hegg

Every leader understands the principle that communication breeds trust, while lack of communication tends to breed suspicion. When we are open about things, others tend to appreciate and accept what we’re saying, while keeping all the information to ourselves tends to make people think we’re hiding something.

In our world, it is clear we need to go a bit further and demand what is being said be true. In fact, if the information given out is a rich mixture of truth, half-truths, and untruths, suspicion will become disbelief and disdain no matter how prolific the pronouncements. No matter how many you have, you can’t make a good omelet with bad eggs.

On the national scene today, truth is getting beat up by those we trust to traffic in factual information. What we believe about a whole host of things is formed by our leadership and the media. And, tragically, we are more and more aware that we are experiencing a deep truth drought.

Then again, is it ever ethical to deceive? Ethicists universally agree there are times when deceit can be moral. Take, for example, plays in football where the offense fakes a run and throws a pass. Or when you leave a light on in your home when gone to deceive a would-be robber. And, again, we’d have to agree deceit is fair in wartime when, for instance, a massive misinformation campaign laid the groundwork for the D-day invasions. In all these situations, deceit is not immoral simply because those being deceived are not considered to have a moral right to know the truth.

But what about us as citizens, partners, spouses, and neighbors? In all cases where it is reasonable to assume we have a moral right to the truth, it is the ethical responsibility of those around us to tell the truth. And, if this is so, how come we’re being bamboozled by too many, too much, and too often?

My great fear is we will come to accept duplicity in all its forms as the new normal, and give up on truth as an essential element in ordered society. Every relationship stands or falls on trust, and trust is formed and maintained only when continually infused with truth. We simply cannot accept any substitutes for truth if we desire to remain a nation united around the bedrock virtues that brought us together in the first place.

The remedy is simple, and we must hold our news makers and news reporters to the age-old standard: Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. First of all, don’t lie to us. Don’t say things you now are not true. And don’t intentionally leave out facts that are substantially necessary to understand the truth. And don’t add commentary or bias designed to mislead us about what is really going on.

The real question revolves around the reason so many are lying to so many more for so many selfish reasons. The answer is simple. We’ve devolved into a society of pragmatics who believe anything we get away with must be permissible. We’ve decided accountability impinges on our freedom, and eliminated most of the consequences of unethical behavior. Besides, the outlandish lies of today will be forgotten as soon as the next news cycles spews out the newest set of absurdities.

Shakespeare’s Polonius exhorted his son “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

While controversy still rages as to the Bard’s intent here, this much is true. If you are a person of truth, you will most likely be true to others. And all you have to do is look around our country to know our truth drought will only end as a deluge of truthful people dedicate themselves to truthful beliefs and behavior.