The Truth About Lying

I did not read the “deflategate” report. I haven’t closely followed the story other than reading the headlines so I’m not about to guess whether Tom Brady is innocent or guilty. At this point, I’m not sure it matters. I heard that Kylie Jenner has finally admitted to having some lip work done by carefully choosing her words. I’m waiting to hear the fate of Brian Williams (though I think it’s pretty clear). Despite all the suspensions, alleged steroid use and subsequent admissions, Americans still love baseball. Bill Clinton is still a popular political figure. Martha Stewart recently appeared on Comedy Central’s Roast of Justin Beiber. With a few light hearted jokes about her prison time, by most accounts, she killed it. Lance Armstrong told the truth (was forced to tell?) and has been vilified.

For all our talk about honesty being the best policy and honesty being a virtue worthy of possessing, as a society, we rarely reward it.

Of all the virtues, honestly might be the trickiest. As a parent, I can understand the mentality of, “thanks for telling the truth…but you’re still in trouble for you bad behavior.” Just because someone is honest, it doesn’t excuse their bad behavior. But should it?

If my child hits his brother and admits it, he will get in trouble for hitting. If he hits his brother and can get away with fooling me, he will not get in trouble. If he hits his brother, lies and gets caught, he will still get in trouble. I’m afraid the lesson he learns is that you might as well try to cover it up.

If Tom Brady had come out and said, “yes, I knew the balls were going to be deflated,” do you think his suspension would remain at 4 games? Instead of copping to “misremembering,” if Brian Williams had said, “I lied, but now I want to tell the truth,” is there any chance he’d still be the face of Nightly News (even if the chance now is minimal at best)? If Bill Cosby announced today that what ALL those women claim, is in fact, true, will anyone think more of him because he finally told the truth? If Lance Armstrong admitted to using drugs the first time he was asked about it, would his legacy be significantly different from what it is today?

If you can cover up the truth, and get away with it, all you have to quiet is your own conscience. You can try to make up for it. You can spend your life trying to right the wrong and maintain a squeaky clean exterior. Covering up the truth, and not getting away with it, rarely makes things worse. Richard Nixon lied, tried to cover it up and eventually got caught. He was forced to resign. If Richard Nixon told the truth in the first place, he would’ve been forced to resign.

As soon as your actions are called into question, it’s much easier to rationalize lying rather than telling the truth. We make telling the truth REALLY hard. The truth may set you free, but our society will likely still crucify you for it.

We have short memories. If Tom Brady admitted to some wrong doing, he would be remembered as a cheater — not as an honest cheater — but a cheater. We all lie, and maybe that’s why it’s so easy for us to forgive and forget. Bill Clinton, as leader of the free world, went on national television and lied about having sexual relations with that girl. It’s a footnote to his legacy. If he admitted on national television that he had an affair in 1998, would he have escaped a trial?

Being honest about our transgressions, rarely trumps the actual transgression. Should it?

We want our kids to learn that the punishment for telling the truth will always be less than the punishment for lying and then getting caught. But is it? We spin stories and air brush photos. We try to hide our faults and call our imperfections, perfect. We tell those who are closest to us we want the truth, but sometimes, often times, we don’t really want the truth. We are a nation built on a false story about the honesty of a great American who admitted to cutting down a cherry tree.

The line between truth telling and lying has become so blurred we don’t know what or who to believe. Beyonce admitted to lip syncing the national anthem at Obama’s 2013 inauguration. Since then, several other of her live performances have been called into question. Even when she says she did not, she gets accused of lying (even though she told the truth about the Obama performance). All it takes is one lie to unravel the truth about one’s character.

Mea Culpa is Latin for “through my fault.” We all have faults. It’s time we start owning them instead of hiding them. It’s time we start forgiving instead of persecuting. It’s time we stop accepting the cover up and eventual admission as good enough. We can’t stop the lying until we start rewarding the truth.

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