01 March 2023

Is Truth Getting Harder to Find?

"I'm not upset that you lied to me. I'm upset that from now on, I can't believe you."

--Frederich Neitzsche 

(C) Getty Images

A culture of ambiguity

Why is it becoming so difficult to believe anyone? Are a proliferation of opinions and speculations undermining our ability to sort through all we see and hear? Would see and hearing less help? 

"Whatever the topic, we're bombarded with polarizing news and social media. Many people cope with the uncertainty--and fear produced by it--by placing 'trust' in the 'leaders' they see as able to cut through the noise and provide guidance around what to believe and what to do. 

"It's easier to trust a single person (politician, podcast host, social media influencer, etc.) and follow their lead versus evaluating every issue oneself," noted Soren Kaplan in Inc. Magazine. 

Delegating judgment to a single filter (individual or group) simplifies life but simultaneously invites the potential for disappointment if the filter can't be trusted. Even amidst the noise, we must know who and what to believe, whether human or artificial communication. 

Discernment makes that possible. 

Institutional trust in decline

Is there a connection between the mistrust in media and the government? 

"Journalists and politicians have become ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that misleads the public," contends Paul H. Weaver, a former political scientist at Harvard University. 

Just 7% of Americans have "a great deal" of trust and confidence in the media, and 27% have "a fair amount." Meanwhile, 28% of U.S. adults say they have little confidence, and 38% have none in newspapers, TV, and radio. (Gallup 2022)

Similar results show up in polling on trust in government. Americans continue to lack faith in the federal government, with low trust in all three branches. Gallup previously reported that trust in the federal government's judicial branch has cratered in the past two years; it now sits at 47%, below the majority level for the first time in Gallup's polling history. 

At 43%, trust in the executive branch is just three percentage points above its record low from the Watergate era. Americans are even less trusting in the legislative branch, at 38%, but this figure has been as low as 28% in the past. (Gallup 2022)

Watch what you say

Why do people knowingly lie? Because in the short-term, they think they can get away with it, and often do.  

In his book, Why Leaders Lie, University of Chicago professor, Dr. John J. Mearsheimer, says that before defining lying, spinning, and concealment, it's necessary to understand deception and truth telling--the direct opposite of deception:

Truth-telling. When an individual does their best to state the facts and tell a story straightforwardly and honestly. A truth-teller resolves biases or selfish interests to report relevant facts fairly.

Deception. Where intentional steps are taken to prevent others from knowing the whole truth--as that individual understands it--about a particular matter. 

Lying. When a person makes a statement that they know or suspect to be false in the hopes others will think it to be true. But lying is not only about the truthfulness of particular facts; it can also involve the disingenuous arrangement of points to tell a fictitious story.

Spinning. Telling a story that emphasizes specific facts and links them together in ways that play to their advantage--while downplaying or ignoring inconvenient facts. The American Bar Association stipulates that "a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of fact or law to a  tribunal." Still, spinning is routine behavior on behalf of their clients.

Concealment. Withholding information that might undermine or weaken one's position.

(C) Shruti Sharma
Operating under pressure

Dana Brownlee makes a case for being as truthful as possible by showing the damage leaders do to themselves, their employees, and the company when distortions appear. Her article in Forbes Magazine highlights the following:

1. Lying erodes trust. For leaders, credibility is everything, and lying is simply the kryptonite that destroys a team's confidence in their leader.

2. If people think you're lying, they may assume things are worse than they actually are. 

3. Employees don't respect liars. Associates don't like being lied to. 

4. If you lie about the small things, colleagues may distrust you with the big stuff. When stakes are the highest, goodwill may not be there when needed most.

5. Lying encourages others to lie. Normalizing this type of behavior could come back to haunt you.

How to be transparent when entertaining questions from employees--

  • Tell them the truth.
  • Tell them you don't know, but you'll find out.
  • Tell them that you can't tell them.

"To err is human."

As the famous physicist Stephen Hawking said: "One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn't exist. Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist."    

Nonetheless, a bad character is redeemable and behavioral consistency is achievable. More than simply change, transformation is the way to reach our highest potential. That's how admired qualities like self-awareness, courage, and gratitude are acquired. 

Additionally, any position of responsibility requires humility and good judgment, as no one can access all the information needed to make decisions or flawlessly interpret the times. 

Albert Schweitzer once wrote, "The great enemy of morality is indifference." Thankfully, many do care enough to embrace honesty, which is more than not lying, deceiving, or cheating. It also means showing respect toward others. 

An honorable life with guiding principles makes reality unambiguous. And truth easier to find.  


©  Bredholt & Co.