Recently, I happen to be shopping in a Kohl’s Department Store and was standing within ear shot of a woman whose cell phone was ringing. She rummaged through her purse, found the phone, and said: “I’m in the doctor’s office.”
George W. Bush lied when he claimed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bill Clinton lied when he said he did not have “sexual relations with that woman”. Then there was Bernie Madoff who hoodwinked billions of dollars from innocent believers in a Ponzi scheme. (Come to think of it —Ponzi was a liar too.)
The 1919 Chicago White Sox deliberately threw the World Series for money. If you ever watched the TV series “House”, you know that “everybody lies” is the protagonist’s modus operandi. The apostle Peter lied when he told the woman in the courtyard he did not know Jesus. So lying goes way back.
The June 2017 issue of National Geographic did a cover story on “Why We Lie.” Although I wondered why National Geographic would write this kind of story, I found the research fascinating. It explored the landscape of human motivations for lying.
We lie for many reasons: to cover up a personal transgression, to avoid people, to gain financially or for personal advantage, to give someone a positive impression, to make people laugh. But there is nothing funny about our lying —we get good at it by the time we are eight years old. It’s a complicated aspect of being human.
Robert Feldman, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, said, “People are not expecting lies, people are not searching for lies and a lot of the time people want to hear what they are hearing.” We tend to accept lies that affirm our world view. Until something strong enough comes around to convince you otherwise, it’s really hard to change your mind once it’s made up.
According to the National Geographic story, we do not recognize lies when we hear them for the simple reason that we expect people to tell the truth.For example, the article notes, if someone claiming to be from the IRS called you on the phone, you would likely believe that the person on the phone was from the IRS if your Caller ID said it was the IRS. This is true, even though Caller ID can be manipulated.
If information does not fit your worldview you tend to ignore it or avoid exploring it. Add social media to the mix and we arrive at the notion of alternative facts, fake news. This is what makes today’s world so challenging. Much of the reason for alternative facts and fake news is money. People may not realize it, but if you click on that sensational headline, someone out there is getting paid.
So what are we to do? We Dominicans, who profess to pursue the Truth, preach the Truth, are particularly sensitive to this issue of what is Truth. Ahh, that’s the kicker, big Truth and little truth, big Lies and little lies. The Truth, the absolutes we all depend on, are being buried under an avalanche of fake facts, schemes and ulterior motives.
Matthew 7:20 “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” This text seems to offer some light to me. Does the story or statement you hear lead you to a greater good? Or are you left confused by the information? We should be able to trust our instinctive judgments about the truth or falsehood of an idea. But today, that’s getting harder to do. I did feel quite confident that I was not in the doctor’s office when that woman in Kohl’s answered the phone.
Sometimes a lie is obvious. At other times, we have to work harder to distinguish a lie from a falsehood. This makes all the more necessary our pursuit of the truth on so many levels.
(Please note: On the July 27, 2017 Leadership Webcast we will use zoom technology to interact with each other on the topic of fake news. Be sure to tune in at 7:00pm and read the suggested “Seven Tips to Spot Fake News”.)
Here’s a prayer that might help:
Dear God, Source of Truth, help me to be discerning in all that I read and hear and please remind me to listen for the deeper truth, one that elevates the common good, the greater good. Remind me to ask questions of my sources, and not simply accept ideas that confirm what I already believe. Stretch my willingness to evaluate what I read and recognize when it leads to deeper truth in me and a greater good for the world. Amen.