Jim Wares: The truth … really
Ilearned that if I were king, it would be a felony for a politician to knowingly lie. Now, I know everyone fibs now and again. But I ain’t saying they shouldn’t be allowed to lie to their spouses, their kids, their friends or business associates. As my wife says, “We each walk to our own graveyard.” If I were king, it would be a felony for them to lie to me.
I don’t imagine such a law would really have much effect on the amount of quality information I would get from a politician subject to such a law. I might hear more, “I can’t answer that.”s and “I really can’t answer that.”s. But this would be a blessing. Such a law would shield me from being subjected to all the smoke and mirrors, the malarkey, the long winded constructions of gibberish intended to obfuscate and obscure.
Twenty years ago Bill Clinton was impeached in the House of Representatives for lying. To be honest, when I think about this, I need to ruminate a moment before I can recall just what it was he was impeached for, that it was lying in a deposition concerning sexual misconduct he was being charged with. What I remember … what I will always remember … is that he came on television, pointed his finger and lied to me … “I did not have sexual relations with that woman …” But he wasn’t impeached for lying to me.
Lies are messy things. It’s not the lie itself that is the messiest thing. They get even messier when there are those who believe the lie. And when those who believe the lie, spread the lie, and more come to believe the lie, it’s no longer a lie … it becomes an alternate truth. How does a king declare an edict against truth, alternate or not?
I have participated in this, spreading a lie I believed to be truth. A couple of years ago someone posted a meme on my Facebook page. It was a picture of Donald Trump, on a television stage, being quoted as saying something butt-stupid. I reposted it. A friend of a friend of a Facebook friend commented that this was a lie; that Donald Trump didn’t say this.
Why, I was indignant. I’m not one to be spreading fake news. So I searched and searched through video after video of Donald Trump interviews until I found the one with Donald Trump wearing the exact same suit, the exact same tie on the exact same television set and was able to freeze the video and see the exact same still photo as the Facebook meme. And then I listened very carefully to the full interview. It was an interview from the early nineties. Oprah Winfrey. Donald Trump didn’t say anything like he was quoted as saying in the meme. It was a lie … and I believed it …and I spread it. Shame on me.
We lie for different reasons. According to an article in 2016 Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, thirty-one percent of the lies we tell are to secure personal or financial advantage. Twenty-two percent of the lies we tell are intended to cover up our failures and sins. By contrast, only seven percent of the lies we tell are altruistic or polite in nature … told to encourage or to avoid being rude. Two percent of our lies are pathological in nature. Four percent are told with the intent of hurting or damaging another.
It’s not the reasons we lie I find so fascinating. It’s that we believe lies. Researchers believe we so easily believe lies because our ability to lie makes believing lies seem so natural…like the lie fits. But that’s just what researchers believe … don’t know if it’s true … maybe they’re lying.
We believe the things that validate us … the things that spit shine our self-image.Once believed, lies are hard things to shake because they become part of our reality even if our reality isn’t all that real. It doesn’t really matter. As long as the lie remains un-assaulted, we may live happily in our un-real reality and all is well. I reposted the Donald Trump meme because it reinforced what I already believed to be true. Discovering the meme to be a lie didn’t tear down my beliefs but it did force me evaluate their foundations.
From childhood, believing lies has always been an easy thing; Easter bunnies, tooth fairies and Santa Clause, all lies that enhance our child-like realities, lies we all at one time wanted to believe. The truth just wouldn’t be as much fun. But we outgrow such lies.
Questioning our beliefs is sometimes a hard thing, a sometimes traumatic thing, often a humbling thing. Though questioning our beliefs is always …always … a rewarding thing.
If we question our beliefs, scrutinize our realities, and in the end they remain standing, we strengthen ourselves, we lend fidelity and integrity to our beliefs. And if we question our beliefs, scrutinize our realities, and in the end they fall … good … well they should.
Failing to question our beliefs and scrutinize our realities may allow us to live in bliss but it is the sort of bliss only found in ignorance.
Now that I have thought about this, now that I have questioned myself, I have changed my mind. See! It works! If I were king I would not make it a felony for a politician to lie to me. God bless him, he may not even know he is lying, he may not have ever mustered the courage to challenge his own beliefs. If I were king, I would make it a felony for a citizen to go through life never questioning the politician … or the columnist for that matter. This is all I have learned today.
James Wares lives in Marshalltown and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org