Everyone lies… Does it matter?

Everyone lies, he said.  And, it is true.  We all have told those little white lies to avoid hurting  another person’s feelings.  We have skimmed the full truth to make ourselves look better.  In a moment of anxiety, we have even outright lied to hide the shame triggered by an unhealed aspect of childhood.  Everyone lies, and it is true.  

The question is does it matter? Yes, yes it does.  For the care of both the individual soul and the soul of our country, it matters.  But, to address it we must be willing to move beyond shamming one another.  Only then will we be equipped to dig beneath the dysfunctional behaviors to address the root wounds; to understand the triggers and address them.

I remember an intervention years ago, where a cross-section of stakeholders cited twenty-nine incidents of lying.  The board was asked if it mattered.  Their response: Of course, it mattered!  With another intervention, it didn’t.  The “successful” outcome markers mattered more.  One system healed (with the firing of the individual who had lied), the other resulted in a split.   Our integrity matters.  At the same time, I continue to think about the root wounds and fears that drive leaders and systems to lie.  

Before the election, the New Yorker reported some pretty serious tallies: 


The President has survived one impeachment, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits.

The New Yorker

Yet, even knowing this, close to half of the country voted for him.

Understanding Moral Foundations

Jonathan Haidt, in his Ted Talk, looks at the moral roots in liberals and conservatives.  His thesis is that humans all have five foundations of morality that drive everything we do:

  • Harm/Care
  • Fairness/Reciprocity
  • In-Group/Loyalty
  • Authority/Respect
  • Purity/Sanctity

Both conservatives and liberals all agree on the first two points.  The split comes on the final three. In Haidt’s words:

Liberals reject three of these foundations. They say “No, let’s celebrate diversity, not common in-group membership.” They say, “Let’s question authority.” And they say, “Keep your laws off my body.”

Liberals have very noble motives for doing this. Traditional authority, traditional morality can be quite repressive, and restrictive to those at the bottom, to women, to people that don’t fit in. So liberals speak for the weak and oppressed. They want change and justice, even at the risk of chaos.

Conservatives, on the other hand, speak for institutions and traditions. They want order, even at some cost to those at the bottom.

So once you see this – once you see that liberals and conservatives both have something to contribute, that they form a balance on change versus stability – then I think the way is open to step outside the moral matrix.

Jonathan Haidt, Ted Talk

So, what next?  

Treat with Dignity

It begins with restoring relationship.  We need to learn anew how to listen to one another, daring to step outside our moral matrix.  And that, begins with treating one another with dignity.

Donna Hicks in her research identifies ten essential elements of dignity:

  • Acceptance of Identity Approach people as neither inferior nor superior to you; give others the freedom to express their authentic selves without fear of being negatively judged; interact without prejudice or bias, accepting how race, religion, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc. are at the core of their identities. Assume they have integrity.
  • Recognition Validate others for their talents, hard work, thoughtfulness, and help; be generous with praise; give credit to others for their contributions, ideas and experience.
  • Acknowledgment Give people your full attention by listening, hearing, validating and responding to their concerns and what they have been through.
  • Inclusion Make others feel that they belong at all levels of relationship (family, community, organization, nation).
  • Safety Put people at ease at two levels: physically, where they feel free of bodily harm; and psychologically, where they feel free of concern about being shamed or humiliated, that they feel free to speak without fear of retribution.
  • Fairness Treat people justly, with equality, and in an evenhanded way, according to agreed upon laws and rules.
  • Independence Empower people to act on their own behalf so that they feel in control of their lives and experience a sense of hope and possibility.
  • Understanding Believe that what others think matters; give them the chance to explain their perspectives, express their points of view; actively listen in order to understand them.
  • Benefit of the Doubt Treat people as trustworthy; start with the premise that others have good motives and are acting with integrity.
  • Accountability Take responsibility for your actions; if you have violated the dignity of another, apologize; make a commitment to change hurtful behaviors.

Perhaps a place to start is committing to practice one essential aspect of dignity.

Everyone lies.  And, everyone has a truth to speak.  Are we willing to listen beyond the finger pointing and distaste that we might find wholeness born out of our brokenness?

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