Today's column title is what we used to yell at other kids in elementary school because lying wasn't a good thing. It was always better to tell the truth, accept the consequences for your actions and get on with you life.
Not so today. We live in a country of liars. And it's not just a certain group of Americans, it's every group. It's not just in a particular place in our country, it's everyplace.
Jim Tressel, the head football coach at Ohio State University, is in danger of losing his job because he lied about the unethical behavior of some of his players. Several major league baseball players face jail time for lying about taking steroids to enhance their performance. Bernie Madoff put together the biggest Ponzi scheme known to man by lying about how people's money was being invested. People shoot an 8 on a golf hole and claim a six. Others promise to love us until they die and then they don't. Donald Trump used to be pro-choice, now he's pro-life. He used to be in favor of universal health care, now he's against it. He used to think Obama was a good president, now he thinks he's the worst ever. Did he reassess those things he believes in or is he saying what he thinks people want him to say because he's considering running for President?
Maybe people lie because it's so easy to do. Rather than facing negative consequences, people lie in the hope of at least postponing those consequences, if not avoiding them altogether. Some people succeed in doing this which makes it even more likely they'll do it again.
Lying has become an epidemic and there's no known cure for it.
So how did we get to this point? How did we make the transition from believing that the truth will set you free to covering our own backside whenever we have the chance?
I think that, more than anything else, it has to do with becoming self-absorbed. Rather than looking out for the other guy, we put our own needs and wants first above everything else. I tell my students every semester that when they want their needs to be met, they need to satisfy the other person's needs first and in return, they'll usually be repaid for their efforts many times over.
That's the way two-way social relationships used to work. I don't think they do anymore. I don't think they do because we've become a society of takers rather than givers. And giving freely without expecting anything in return is now seen as a weakness rather than a strength. A giver has become someone who can be used and manipulated over and over for our own ends. And when we've gotten everything we can get from that person, we kick them to the curb and move on to someone else.
My regular golf partner is Jim Lemon because neither one of us cheat. We don't improve our lies. We count every stroke. We encourage each other. And when our match is over, whoever wins knows that they won fair and square.
But winning fair and square doesn't enter into the equation much anymore. We just want to win, regardless of how we accomplish it and that includes lying and cheating. Whether its sports, business, or relationships, we just want to come out on top.
A generation ago, it was just as important how you won as winning itself. That's not a prerequisite anymore. People don't care how you win as long as you win. The process has become inconsequential. The end result is all that matters.
And the more we lie, the more our country declines. We like to blame the decline on one party or even one person but we're not being honest with each other or ourselves when we do that because it's everybody's fault.
If other countries can't trust us to tell the truth and do what's right, they lose faith in us and if we can't trust each other to tell us the truth and do what's right, we lose faith in our fellow man.
So if this empire ever falls, the way so many great empires have fallen in the past, it won't be because of a party or a person or an idea or a concept.
It will be because we forgot how to tell the truth.