Truth, Lies, and Paltering Leaders – What and Who Can Be Believed?
Guest Post by Malcolm Peart (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
“Lies, damn lies and statistics” is an often-used phrase attributed to the 18th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. He acknowledged the persuasive power of numbers to bolster weak arguments.
In a statistical moment his contemporary, Abraham Lincoln, said; “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time“. Politics, persuasion and manipulation (deception) have gone hand in hand for centuries.
Many people have monopolized in the area of Churchill’s “terminological inexactitudes’ or, as it’s now being referred to Stateside of the Pond “False News“. The term”lie” is an accusatory word and maybe impolite and vulgar and’ politically incorrect’ but do ‘lies’ really help us and why can’t we know the truth?
Lies and Truth
Lies, dictionarily, are ‘false statements‘ or ‘deliberate falsehoods‘ that intend to deceive. Lies also include for ‘white lies’ that are ‘untruths said without evil intent‘ but deceive nonetheless. These may range from farcical exaggerations such as the angler’s “it was this big” with arms outstretched to excuses of “I was stuck in traffic” when somebody is late. More deceptively, and perhaps more grey than white we have, “Your cheque is in the post … (or at least it will be soon, I hope!)“.
The opposite of a lie is ‘truth’. However, ‘truth’ can be a matter of opinion and belief but, philosophically, truth represents facts that can be relied upon, relied upon consistently and believed unanimously …a rare phenomenon but we are, after all, only human.
The ‘truth‘ may not be perceived by some as serving everybody’s needs or best interests. Hence, only selected aspects of the truth may be used by those ‘in control’ or ‘in power’. This is an unfortunate truth rather than a lie but on a need-to-know basis.
Expressing and Suppressing Truth
“The truth will set you free“, despite its biblical origins, is concerned with freedom of learning rather than any religious calling. But the real ‘truth’ on a project or in business is perception.
Facts as to what, when, or where something happened may be recorded in writing or recollected through memory. However, if a definitive explanation is required as to exactly how that something occurred, or who did it, or why, then there will be interpretation and speculation. Interpretation is based on assumptions, educated guesses and beliefs, and in time such opinions inevitably become truths as the picture is completed. Unfortunately, in the absence of real facts the end result may well be a spectrum of opinions and the ‘truth’ may well become a multiplicity of opinions on a single theme.
‘Telling stories’ can affect any truth and the party who gets in with their version first may well have the upper hand as to who believes what. According to Mark Twain, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”. Next time you hear ‘breaking news’ or a reactionary reaction or somebody’s story have a think. Why did such news ‘break’ so quickly and why was ‘information’ leaked and who is behind the story, conspiracy abounds.
Lies Take Effort
To some, telling the truth means ‘not lying’. Telling the truth means recalling what you really remember; if you remember what you have been told, that’s hearsay, or if you recall an assumption, that’s just guessing. But if you remember what you know, and with a good and honest heart then telling the truth is effortless. As Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”.
If one lies then you may need to remember an awful lot about what didn’t really happen or who did something they didn’t and that you lied; the complexity of the proverbial ‘tissue of lies‘ prevails. Abraham Lincoln also said; “No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar”.
But on the subject of lies another US President, FD Roosevelt, observed that “Repetition does transform a lie into truth’. His sentiment was endorsed by the infamous Nazi, Goebbels, who declared ‘a lie told often enough becomes the truth” …amazing that leaders of such different and opposed ideologies agreed about lying.
No matter what anyone remembers or wishes to remember, the recollection of inexactitudes and being consistent requires effort because it’s at difference to reality. Just as time heals all wounds, time may well reveal the truth and the proverbial “wicked web we weave” falls into tatters. Failing memories, or plain old moral conscience when liars can get things off their chest, or even historical research, exposes both deceit and falsehoods and the risk of the truth being found is realised, eventually.
Psychologists have coined the term’ paltering’ for misleading people through “telling the truth“. Paltering, an area typically dominated by politicians and charlatons, is dependent on the selection of truthful facts that only support one side of an argument to ‘convince’ any listener with out lying. Complete honesty would, of course, give a full picture without deceit, but where is the political advantage in doing that?
In today’s world, the denial of responsibilities and being truthful is becoming more and more ingrained. Very few people will freely apologise for lying and even fewer will freely admit the whole truth. Just look at insurance companies; in case of an accident we are advised ‘swap driver details… never admit liability‘.Saying ‘sorry’ is no longer an act of politeness but is perceived as an admission of guilt.
For those who are ‘economic with the truth‘ and palter they will consider their behaviour as ethical and far from any act of lying. However in the eyes of the receiver, paltering is simply lying. Lies can result in confusion, frustration and possibly boondoggling. But the really sad fact is that there is a loss of trust.
People, generally, will know when, or if, they have lied and they live with it morally. ‘White lies‘ may be efficacious and serve, in the eyes of the ‘originator’, everybody’s best interests. However, in the eyes of any recipient, the terminological inexactitudes that prevail may well be perceived as out-and-out ‘lies‘.
Paltering confuses and upsets people as they try to unravel the relevant truth from the irrelevant representations. When people realise that they have been duped they will be upset about being lied to. Being lied to and being upset was considered by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche when he concluded, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you”.
When people don’t believe that you’re telling the truth they lose trust. And as we should all know, trust is difficult to build, easily lost and may be forever irreparable. It may be seen as naive in this proclaimed Golden Age of Lying but we could bear in mind the guidance of another 18th Century politician, Ben Franklin, and that if you want trust, “Honesty is the Best Policy“.
UK Chartered Engineer & Chartered Geologist with over thirty-five years’ international experience in multicultural environments on large multidisciplinary infrastructure projects including rail, metro, hydro, airports, tunnels, roads and bridges. Skills include project management, contract administration & procurement, and design & construction management skills as Client, Consultant, and Contractor.