DR. CUMMINGS: To lie or not to lie

May 19, 2013 

Did President Richard Nixon lie about the Watergate break-in? Did President Bill Clinton lie about Monica Lewinsky? Did President George W. Bush lie about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Did President Barack Obama lie about the attack on Benghazi and his IRS involvement and his knowledge of the AP scandal?

“What difference does it make?” Sometime today, you’ll be faced with telling the truth when you don’t want to. Your mind will go into slow motion. It’s your boss, or a fellow worker, or maybe your spouse. You hear them asking you a question, and before the answer leaves your mouth, a thousand thoughts appear. The clock stops as you analyze your choices. The absolute truth might not be popular. In fact, it might cause you some painful grief right here and now. It would be so easy to dodge this question, and put a little spin on your answer, and, besides, “what difference does it make?”

The reason it makes a difference when a politician lies is the same reason it makes a difference when we lie. It’s all about trust. Leaders must be trusted and all of us are leaders: parents, workers, teachers, preachers, whatever. We don’t have to be managers or directors or presidents. All of us are “leading” other people in our daily lives. People are asking us questions and trusting us to lead them in the right direction with our answers. A lie violates that trust. That’s why it matters.

A recent Pew Research poll (March of this year) has found that 73 percent of Americans say they have very little trust in their government. I wonder what a poll would reveal about us. If we took a survey of our friends and fellow workers, and maybe the people in our church and club and community, and we asked the question: “On a scale of 1-10, how much do you trust my word.” What would that number be?

Telling the whole truth is not easy especially if you’re an extrovert. “Extroverts with a flair” (I call them: Socializers) seldom tell the truth without some kind of special spin. TV and radio talk hosts are a good example. And I bet you have several people at work you can name right now: cheerful, always smiling. The kind of people who look up when you ask: “How are you this morning?” And they respond in a booming voice: “Super!” You love to listen to them because they tell such great stories, and they’re a lot of fun to have around. But when you want the facts or the details, you usually go to somebody else.

If you’re a Socializer, (and 25 percent of you are) don’t feel too guilty. Story-tellers are necessary. We would never know anything about any of our famous heroes if Socializers had not passed on the traditions. If “introverted perfectionists” with painful accuracy, had written the history of Anthony and Cleopatra, who would read it? However, we need to recognize that the “truth and nothing but the truth” is needed more often than we think. “Embellishing the truth” has its place, but “telling the truth” comes first when we’re leading other people.

We expect our politicians to tell us the truth, especially our presidents, whether they’re extroverts or introverts, and when we think they’re lying we lose trust in them and in our whole government. President Obama is not an extrovert the way President Clinton was. It was easy to forgive ole Bill, but not Barack.

Of course, we’ll never know the complete story on any of our presidents. Who knew what, or who said what, or who made the final decision. So whether any of them lied will always be open to discussion and investigation and that goes on for many years; that’s what historians do. What we do know is us -- whether we’re lying or telling the truth. And we know that today.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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