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David P. Smith: Double Standards for Lying
Friday, May 17, 2013 10:05 AM

A 2010 national survey study by Michigan State University asked one thousand American adults to report the number of lies told in a time period of twenty-four hours. According to the survey, “sixty percent of subjects report telling no lies at all, and almost half of all lies are told by only 5% of subjects; thus, prevalence varies widely and most reported lies are told by a few prolific liars.”  Most people tell the fewest of the total lies being told at any given time, while a few people tell most of the lies.  The study also revealed that most of us are not very good about discerning lies from the truth and are better at being able to know something is the truth versus being able to know something is a lie.

There are few people who think positive thoughts when they know they have been told something that is not true.  We all take in a lot of information and if we have a default belief that we are told the truth, life is much more peaceful, but if we have become so jaded that our default belief is that we are told continual lies, we live in a constant state of feeling threatened.  Most people want to believe that the information they receive is the truth.  Given that the great majority of people are generally honest, there occurs a severe break in trust when one is shown to be lying by incontrovertible proof.  In a world of information overload from so many points of view or biases, it is difficult to know fact from fiction.  Due to the confusion, most people will give anyone the benefit of the doubt and their default decision will be to believe the information is truth until it is proven to be false.  Our judicial system is even set up that way.

Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001 makes it a crime to: 1) knowingly and willfully; 2) make any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation; 3) in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the United States.  Most people remember that this law was what allowed for Martha Stewart to be convicted for intentionally misleading FBI and SEC officials who were questioning her about insider trading.  Even if there are no warnings given, no resultant misleading occurred, no financial cheating occurred, and even if what was spoken as a lie was not under oath, it is a crime to lie to the federal government.  Our government has provided great breadth for prevention and treatment of those who lie to them and the general public is not given any leeway when enforcement is desired.  Since the federal government can hold the general public to this standard, the general public should hold the federal government to this same standard. 

Anyone who is in leadership who has a problem with being truthful in all circumstances should not be in leadership.  If the federal government can prosecute any citizen using this law, then the same law should apply to those within the federal government as well.  However, has our culture degraded to the point that we have defaulted to a setting of thinking immediately that our politicians are generally dishonest, so we do not really hold them any longer to the same standard that we are held?  Is it not time to examine ourselves to learn if we have fallen victim to setting double standards of truthfulness among those with whom we personally interact versus those who seem to be more distant from us?  Should not there be the same standard for all?  Do not our children deserve to see leaders with integrity whom they can trust?  Whether we like it or not, our children do emulate who their leaders are.  What kind of example are we setting if we decide it is okay for our leaders to lie to us, but accept laws that they can use against us to hold us to a standard that they refuse to abide by themselves?  Americans need to do some soul searching in the months ahead.  What we tolerate now will become worse in the future.

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