Soap Box:  The Truth Will Set You Free?

January 8, 2003

Have you ever hear the phrase, "the truth will set you free"? I think I remember Flip Wilson's character "Geraldine" saying it many, many years ago. And of course, I've heard it repeated quite a few times since. The phrase is kind of strange. It assumes that a person is not being truthful and this is causing some sort of bondage. What is this bondage? Guilt from lying? The work in having to cover up a lie? And by telling truth, these chains of bondage are broken?

The sad fact of the matter is that if the truth will surely set you free, by deduction I think most people are in some sort of bondage today. For some reason, there is no value in telling the truth or being honest anymore. Oh, it hasn't happened suddenly. Even when Geraldine was saying the line there were people out there lying through their teeth. But in today's society, being caught in a lie no longer seems to carry any stigma. Lying is a part of everyday conversation now. Ever wonder how many times you are deliberately lied to in a given day? Unfortunately, I think it's much more often than most people realize. And I think it's eating away at the most basic moral fiber of our society and partly the cause of so much of the corruption we see from businesses to personal relationships.

First of all, let me tell you something about myself. I don't lie. Being truthful is a way of life for me. No, I'm not some god or special being that is incapable of lying. It's my philosophy that keeps me from lying. And I'm not entirely sure how I came to that philosophy, but for as long as I can remember, I have told the truth. There have been a few times where a simple lie would have helped me avoided some pain and suffering, yet I still told the truth. And even after witnessing other people lie and gain rewards or avoid trouble, I still have maintained my philosophy of telling the truth. In fact, my observations have taught me that lying is more rewarding than being truthful. I don't remember my parents making a particular point of why it's good to be truthful. I never really saw anyone meet tragedy from telling a lie. So why don't I lie?

I think it's mainly because of two factors. First of all, lying is considered morally wrong. The bible flat out tells us that lying is a sin. And although you can't really tell it today, lying is still considered a vice instead of a virtue. But probably the most influential factor is my belief in the golden rule, which is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". I don't want people lying to me so naturally and logically I avoid lying to them.

Let's explore some of my history with lies, the truth, and the consequences. The first example I can think of where life taught me that lying has more rewards was when I was in the boy scouts, around 5th grade or so. We were on a camping trip, some of the boys discovered they could easily gain entrance to a local cabin and did so. I was enlisted as the lookout for their escapades. They found some beer, drunk it, and even brought some outside. I took a swallow to taste it. Well a few days after the trip, I got a phone call from one of the scout leaders. Apparently we were ratted out by the scout master's son or something. I was told to tell my parents about it or they would. After hanging up the phone, I immediately told my parents the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Then came the disciplinary meeting with the scout masters. They talked to us boys individually. Again I repeated everything I knew to be the truth. To my surprise, they said they didn't believe me. In other words, they called me a liar. They said that they were told I was the leader of the pack and that I was the one that went inside the cabin. So not only did the other boys decide to lie their way out of the situation, they also decided to make me the scapegoat. Of course I was punished and I soon quit the boy scouts after this because of the disgust for being treated like a liar (and partly because we had a worthless scout master). But even after this little life lesson, I still told the truth.

And so it continued through life, where I saw people lie to avoid trouble and be rewarded. In college I saw a roommate lie time and time again to get to retake tests that he had missed. He even got to take a final exam he had missed, after finding out what was on it from other classmates of course. His lies were quite simple. Once he claimed had to go home and burying his horse that had died. He never owned a horse. Another time he claimed he had to go home to look for his little sister that had run away from home. He didn't have a sister. But each time the school officials believed him and he was rewarded.

The same observations were made during my Navy time too (which coincided with college). I learned that when a senior officer asked you a question, the response was suppose to be what they wanted to hear. Whether or not it was the truth did not matter. Even so, my philosophy still caused me to always tell the truth. I watched liars and cheaters praised and promoted. "Brown nosers" raised up quickly through the ranks. Even as an upperclassman, I still had no more authority (other than rank) over freshman coming into the program. In fact, I was made out to be a villain for some reason. My ONLY vice was bad grades. Because of certain circumstances, my grades were quite less than desirable. But I still performed all my duties with the Navy. I went to every function and gave 100%. I watched DRUG DEALERS praised while I was admonished for my bad grades. Even on my way out, one bitch lieutenant actually accused me of being a liar. I literally had to bite my tongue to keep from giving my truthful opinion of her.

Yet I still tell the truth. Even today, when I encounter lie after lie from others, I still maintain my virtue. Our current politicians can be blatant liars and hypocrites without fear of any fallout. Everybody lies. The police and DA lie to get convictions. Lawyers lie to win cases. People lie, cheat, and steal as if it was a fashion statement.

Some of the more recent lies I've encountered have prompted me to write this article. A few months ago, I went to a supply store to pick up some stuff that my wife had ordered. The girl that took the order was apparently in the "rest room" according to the girl at the counter. The counter girl even went to the back of the store a couple of times to see if she was available. When the order girl finally came out, I recognized her as the girl I saw arguing with a boyfriend at the back of the store when I drove up. So why did the counter girl lie to me? She could have easily just said the girl was busy or something. It would have been true. But instead she decided to actually lie about it.

Another example happened during my holiday shopping. Upon returning to my van with my buggy, I saw a man looking at the front of my van. I stopped one car short of my van and observed (the man must have assumed the car belonged to me instead of the van). He then told his wife, who was sitting in their car with the door open, "Merry Christmas" sarcastically. I took this to meant he had given the van a "present" of being hit. Leaving my buggy, and walking over to them I asked if they had hit the van. Remember they still think I'm with the car at my buggy, not my van. The wife, without missing a beat, says "no, the van hit them!". I glance at the van and don't see any damage so I tell them that when I parked MY van, a big black truck was in front of it INSTEAD of their car. They got in their car and left without saying another word.

But the thing that prompted me to write this rambling article was a book I was reading to my daughter last night. It was a small children's book called "A Case For Jenny Archer". In one scene, the main character tells a deliberate lie in an attempt to explain why she is found hiding under the neighbor's table. The consequence? The main character not only gets out of trouble, but is now considered very "smart" by her playmate. And since I am currently struggling to convince my daughter that she shouldn't tell fibs, this book REALLY pissed me off!

So, if you want to get on my bad side, lie to me. If you really want to piss me off, call me a liar. I think the problem stems from the fact that since most people lie (in my opinion), they automatically assume that other people are lying too. And that's not the case with me. Even though the rewards seem great and assured, I still embrace my philosophy of always being truthful. Of course, if some gangster sticks a gun in my face and tells me to lie, I'll say anything he wants me to. But as I go through your day to day life, I try my best to always think about the golden rule. I treat others as I would like to be treated. And since I don't like people lying to me, I don't lie to them. To do so would be hypocritical, which is yet another topic for another day.

Jeff Polston


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