Your Take: Lying & honor (Part 2)
Several weeks ago in The Fulcrum, we shared this Your Take question with our community:
What is your take on how we restore honor when lying has become fashionable?
Bonus question: What would happen if we actually stopped lying to each other and to ourselves?
We were thrilled to have received so many thoughtful responses from our readers that we wanted to take this opportunity to share the second part of those responses this week. Letters below were edited for length and clarity:
I think this is a huge question. I think a lot of people are so entrenched in their beliefs that the truth doesn't matter to them. I also think this is even a deeper question of how we think about ourselves and our spirituality. I think we as a society are so focused on being or showing that we are happy, everything is good, and that we are good people that the truth gets lost if it comes in conflict with those types of self projection.
I used to be involved in various religious groups - Christian and more meditation practices with Hindu scriptures. I volunteered a lot of my time. They are good places and people but I noticed that there was a certain amount of suppression of anything that was not in alignment with the teachings and a downplay of all emotions. I think also the political correctness of our time has a lot of people censoring their true feelings whether they are right or wrong.
All of this is to say that if people are not honest with each other, how can they be honest with others? Without bearing witness to the good and bad parts of ourselves and acknowledging that we can be good people even with bad thoughts or emotions.
Also social media promotes a lifestyle of exaggerating and lying to look good. It seems everyone is pretending to be something that they are not and this seems to be encouraged rather than despised.
Being true to yourself no matter what others think seems to be rather out of vogue.
Until we as a society actually admire truth over fiction and promote realistic expectations of ourselves and others we will not be able to address this problem. I hope that the falsity that so many encourage and love gets to a maximum and people start to see through it and yearn for the truth again. The truth isn't always pretty and a lot of times it can shock our sense of who we are and what is important in this world.
I personally admire brutally truthful people. I admire the truth even when it goes against everything I believe. Because then I can wake out of my sleep and remember I am alive. The only truth is that change is the only constant in the world. But what changes and how is up to us. Whether we change for the better or worse depends on what we value. As long as we value falsity over truth and fiction over reality we are in trouble. But eventually every fantasy has an end and can't be sustained forever. ~Robert Barry
You're right about how lying has become or is becoming a new norm in certain contexts. Guess from whom we had that modeled to us over and over again? I think they say that Trump lied up to 30,000 times when he was in office (I could have that number wrong, but it was a very large number and he continues to do it. He’s still maintaining that the presidency was stolen from him!).
I'm reading a book right now that partially explains this phenomenon: "The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century" by Moises Naim. If there is a social norm that is well accepted like 'not to lie,' a politician wanting to grasp power might use a strategy called 'norm busting,' like what Trump did over and over again. At first it feels/seems terrible, but eventually, we come to just accept it. We even come to expect it. Naim used Trump as an example in terms of lying, but he also gave the example of Duterte from the Philippines, who grasped that people were tired of gang violence around drug dealing on the streets. Duterte appealed to the populace wanting street crime to be cleaned up and he said he would take care of it. Well, he did by allowing the police to simply shoot to kill drug dealers, which actually was quite effective! It got rid of street violence right away. Duterte has hung onto power by using his norm-busting behavior in this way.
The book explains a lot about how norms can be broken easily by autocrats or potential autocrats. At first we are shocked by the behavior, but eventually it becomes old news and we just accept it as a new normal. Afterall we learn how to behave first by watching and modeling our parents. If our parents were to lie to us all the time, we would probably assume lying was okay and do it ourselves. Luckily, most of our parents taught us that lying wasn't a good thing. ~Linda Ellinor
Is the real question that we need to restore honor? I guess it would depend on what we mean by honor and is honor the real issue when one partakes in lying for one's own benefit? Is lying to hide from the truth as in self deceit or is it for the achievement of something that we don't deserve?
As a noun, honor can refer to "respect" as well as "adherence to what is right or conventional standard of conduct." As such both these meanings of the word could be applicable to the questions you raise. With either definition of honor the question to lie or not lie seems centered in what one wishes to achieve. It seems in the context of examples you present lying is intended to achieve a benefit to the liar versus the situation that would result in a benefit to the other or the greater good. It could also be intended to deceive the reality we live in so that life can be bearable for ourselves. Hard to know what it is for one to lie?
In the case of the football player, to not attempt to lie would result in the game being played within the rules that were applicable to the situation at hand. As such, that player would not pursue the advantage to him but would have ceded his need to have his way or desire to the game itself. In other words letting the consequence of the play be what it should be not what he wanted it to be. So the game as a system would be played out as intended. Alternatively, perhaps he lied so that he would have not had to face his own disappointment and as such wish what is to be what it is not and what is more acceptable to his world that he lives in.In the case of the politicians, it seems the intent of the lie would again be to their advantage and not to a "truthful" description of what is. As such whatever the decision or moment they wanted to craft for the support of their action is the issue. To lie in their case would be to misrepresent the issues and as such attempt to get their way over [acknowledging] what is actually happening. This would also include self deception as trying to evoke a reality that they want to live in. In other words being truthful to what is happening and as such results in either a benefit of the other and not to themselves or a need to change their world view and then have to come to the acceptance that the world is not how they wish it to be. So not to lie is to accept what is. They either end up changing their understanding of reality if they were self-deluded or they end up holding their oaths of being servants of the people by their acceptance that they are not there to serve themselves. So their lying could be intended to distort the "truth" and live in the world they want and/or mislead others to believing that the situation or action in question should be decided for their benefit instead of the benefit the "truth" would bear out. ~Matthew Eckert