The Fish Rots from the Head
Lying has become normal and acceptable in our country
Why do people lie?
On its face, that’s not a simple question; you might say that people lie for all sorts of reasons. Some lie to avoid facing consequences or gain what they may not have earned. Some lie to protect others. Some lie to win the admiration of others.
Sometimes we lie to avoid embarrassment or get out of an awkward social situation. Or to control a situation or manipulate others to get a reaction. Others lie because the truth can be “inconvenient” insofar as it doesn’t fit their narrative.
Then there are the so-called “white lies” we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves we’re smarter and better-looking than we are. We’ll be happy when we get that raise, lose the weight, get the car, the house, the boat. That we’re too old for this or that, or don’t have enough time, or those jeans don’t make your butt look that big.
So, yes, people lie for all sorts of reasons.
But don’t you know people who have grown so accustomed to lying they do so even when the truth would have served just as well? They lie when there is no apparent purpose. They lie when their lies are easily disproven. It reminds me of the Russian novelist who once wrote, “We know they are lying, they know they are lying, they know we know they are lying, we know they know we know they are lying, but they are still lying.”
And while “pathological lying” isn’t a clinical diagnosis, it occurred to me this is what our culture has become. One study from a few years ago found Americans average about 11 lies per week, and with the burgeoning growth of social media and video chat, lying has become more aggressive.
If we’re talking about a culture of lying, where does the culture of any company, committee, church or organization come from? The leadership: It all starts at the top – or in this instance, the fish rots from the head.
For example, look at our elected, socalled leaders – from your local school board to Capitol Hill – and you know right away how “normal” lying in politics has become and how acceptable we have made it – 81% of Americans feel members of Congress are unethical “some” or “all or most of the time,” and yet we re-elect these incumbents 90% of the time.
The fish rots from the head. Will Rogers once said, “If you ever injected truth into politics, you have no politics.” But do politicians lie because the public doesn’t want to hear the truth? Rome’s greatest orator, Marcus Cicero, received this campaign advice from his brother in 64 B.C: “Candidates should say whatever the crowd of the day wants to hear.”
Maybe we prefer illusion to the truth? Or we often see what we want to see – like a magician making someone look like they are levitating on stage. After all, as Winston Churchill put it, “The truth is heavy, therefore few care to carry it.”
The bottom line is that until we, the voters, require honesty from our elected officials and hold them accountable with our votes throughout their terms in office – and not just when they’re running for office – the dishonesty will continue. As with any good illusion, the hand is truly quicker than the eye, and without attentiveness, elected officials will continue to lie to us “for our own good.”
And whether you call it misrepresentations, omissions, exaggerations, denials, lack of transparency, fabrications, cover-ups, broken promises, hypocrisy, or bait and switch, it’s not good for us or the legacy that we will leave for the next generation.
In this election year, whatever you believe, our message to candidates is this: Just be real. Jesus teaches us that “the truth shall set you free,” but it’s bigger than that. It sets us all free.
This isn’t just a “Republican” or “Democrat” thing; it’s a “human being” thing. And we remember someone’s honesty, or the lack of it, long after the details of its subject matter are long forgotten. Lyndon Johnson lied about Vietnam. Richard Nixon lied about Watergate. Bill Clinton lied about Monica Lewinsky. These are just a few examples.
We, the people, can handle the truth; we just shouldn’t be expected to manage our lives – or continue to vote for you – in the absence of it.
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in 318 Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at email@example.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.