Do you always tell the truth? Probably not. In fact, I’m sure you don’t because none of us does. Honestly, people stretch, cover-up or mangle the truth for a host of reasons all the time, many of which are justifiable and humane.
For reasons of tact, compassion or diplomacy, we are all usually quite prepared to lie. Just to be nice, we tell a friend recovering from a serious illness that he/she looks okay, when in our heart of hearts we don’t believe it. You may not like your close friend’s outrageous new outfit, but as a true friend you will most often be inclined to offer a compliment to avoid hurting them for no good reason.
We are often forced to hide, soften, stretch, or maybe even misrepresent certain difficult truths in an effort to protect people, to not embarrass them in a public way. My mother used to call these white lies. We were taught at home that they were essentially okay, understandable and justifiable.
Yet, there isn’t a person alive who hasn’t bent the truth or presented a half-truth for personal gain or to get out of something you didn’t want to do. So, beyond white lies, the question is: how far will you go with stretching or bending the truth?
Unfortunately, lying to get your way can work or appear to work for you. But just because you manage to get away with it once – or even a few times – does not mean that it’s a good way to live because the truth matters.
We all need to accept responsibility for our actions, our behaviours, our general comportment and self-regulation. It is no surprise to you that baseline honesty or truthfulness is a key pillar of good citizenship, and a consistent record of honesty and dependability impacts one’s overall personal integrity and what we tend to refer to as character and one’s reputation. Honesty and consistency of behaviour help build a sense of trust, which is critical to stable friendships and harmonious family, work and community relations. It actually takes a long time to forge a solid reputation. However, if one becomes known for being a liar, all that you’ve built can collapse overnight.
I recently heard an interesting podcast by a Stanford University education professor and psychologist, Dr. Bill Damon. This noted psychologist has studied many attributes of human behaviour and has identified a trend in North America. More and more people seem to be lying primarily in an effort to boost their ego or simply for personal advantage in an increasingly competitive society.
Obviously, that’s not a good development. Professor Damon expresses a concern as a psychologist, that people who are inclined to lie about things are actually also being self-deceptive. They need to realize that his research also shows that such people are generally less competent, which can be very destructive in the long run. In essence, lying to yourself or to others catches up to you. Not facing the truth head-on is an easy way out but it doesn’t pay off in the long run.
Professor Damon’s work reminds us about the importance of foundational ideals such as honesty. He says that we often need to work hard to get to the truth. He also asserts that we need to defend the value of conversation, reasoning, debate, discovery, insight and, ultimately, the defence of truth, especially in schools where learning and ideas are paramount. If we were to allow lying and the law of the jungle to dominate, it will surely undermine our community and social fabric.
As you know, there’s a lot of talk these days about “fake news” – the fact that your inbox and social media networks are full of information expressly designed to deceive you or pull you over to the position of a particular friend, interest group or politician. So, discerning truth from falsehood – and the courage to defend the truth, is indeed honourable and principled – is now perhaps more important, yet more difficult than ever.
You can be certain that the defence of truth is what our founder Dr. Fosbery envisioned for his school in 1909 and was what our Canadian forefathers envisioned for this country 150 years ago as a key virtue for a free society. So I urge you today to stand up for honesty. Don’t deceive yourself; your personal development, your reputation and our society’s greater good all depend upon it!