“I cannot tell a lie.”
Even though that anecdote about George Washington admitting that he chopped down a cherry tree has been discounted numerous times, we still like to believe that our first President was honest and never lied.
How fitting that on Washington’s birthday we can reflect on lying and how easily everyone—from famous people to nobodies—skirts the truth. Never before has there been such focus on lying. Fox-TV even launched a new TV program called “Lie to Me,” based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, a real-life specialist who can read clues embedded in the human face, body and voice to expose both the truth and lies in criminal investigations.
Talk about excellent timing! Lying is front-page news. A-Rod lies to Katie Couric about using steroids, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich lies about auctioning off Obama’s Senate seat, Bernie Madoff lies to everyone about his investment business, bank officials lie about bonuses, airplanes, and junkets. Whew! Lying seems to be a knee-jerk reaction. Telling the truth never is an option. And even when the truth finally comes out, there are excuses aplenty. Yes, A-Rod says, he lied to Katie Couric. But in his mind, he really didn’t believe he was lying. Huh?
Perhaps the whole lying business got started with Bill Clinton, when he stared into the TV camera and said, “I did not have sex with that woman.” Of course he rationalized it afterwards by saying it was oral sex, and so, not really sex. Right. More excuses. Is it any wonder that lying no longer brings censure the way it used to? If a President can lie, why not everyone else? So much the better, if you get away with it. If you get caught, then lie some more.
A classic episode from I Love Lucy has lying as its theme. Lucy was challenged to go through a day without lying. Her friends put her to the test, forcing her to reveal personal details, like the real color of her hair. Soon it became apparent, however, that sometimes we lie, or shade the truth, to protect others. “It’s delicious!” You tell your mother about her pot roast when, in reality, you can barely choke it down. “You look great!” you tell your best friend, rather than admitting that the extra ten pounds now makes her look like a sausage in that dress she bought last year. We like to call these lies to save face “little white lies.” Whoppers are the ones we tell to protect ourselves and avoid censure or punishment.
Why not declare a moratorium on lying? Even those little white lies hurt us and others. And, most of all, they send the wrong message to our sons and daughters. Let’s get back to the truth: lying is wrong. Don’t do it.