“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
Oprah Winfrey didn’t ask this of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong during her recent interviews, but in light of suggestions that he lied to her about when he stopped his use of performance enhancing drugs, maybe she should have. She definitely should have asked it of the hotel employee who said her Edmonton lodging carried her Oprah Winfrey Network, which turned out not to be the case. In fact, asking if someone is telling the truth can be one of the best questions we can ask.
Swearing to tell the truth in a court of law comes as a result of the recognized need to have a place where deception is denied in the pursuit of justice. But even the courtroom itself, unfortunately, does not guarantee that justice is served. Despite promises under oath, lies still happen. They’re just too easy to escape detection. Even the truth, at times, can lead to unjust decisions. Yet without the truth, everything falls apart.
Whether we admit it or not, we expect others to tell the truth but we’re more than comfortable with telling lies in various settings. Like when we think it will spare us from getting in trouble.
“How’s that report coming?” our boss asks us at work “Oh, I’m almost done,” we say, knowing we haven’t looked at it for a week.
Sometimes we think a little white lie will gain us some advantage. Resume fraud is rampant in the human resources arena. When I get my car serviced or my furnace repaired, I’m at the mercy of the technician. There might be undeniable, obvious things needing attention, but what about that thingamabob that “really should get changed out?” How do I know it’s the truth and he’s not just lining his pocket with my money? Dentists, lawyers, nutritionists and salesmen are other potentials for truthlessness. Trust is imperative when you’re not an expert.
And who hasn’t exaggerated a story to impress a colleague? Exaggeration fuels so many of our stories that many would be left speechless without it. Most times our claims that “I was almost run over by a car,” or “that’s the worst hamburger I’ve ever eaten” are harmless. But it can also pack a punch when exaggeration is used to accuse. “You’re always unkind.” Or, “We never go on dates.” These types of conversations are unhelpful and push people apart.
Or what about withholding a piece of vital information because telling the whole truth just complicates things? Or re-tweeting a piece of gossip knowing that it wasn’t exactly… accurate? Lying is an epidemic in our society. Somehow we feel compelled, however, to watch Oprah while perched atop our high horses to see a celebrity admit his sports career was fuelled by performance enhancing interventions. We know that the bigger they are the harder they fall. But are we really any different?
Lance Armstrong’s admission is a reminder that no matter how talented a person is; no matter how many awards they might win, or how much potential they show in their life; that in the end it’s our character that people remember. Is it better to live in the shadows with that character intact, or to enjoy the sunlight of fame with shadows in our heart?
We need to live strong by living true. Our determination to do what is right – whether people are looking or not – begins with simple things. Telling the truth creates a life of integrity. Without integrity, you’re not in the race. You’re just out for a ride.
Dee-Ann Schwanke serves on multiple community and non-profit boards, and is currently completing her bachelor of commerce degree. She has lived with her family in St. Albert since 1999.