The Lying Thing

Over the past few weeks, the newspapers have been delving into the subject of lying.  The Mueller investigation has resulted in criminal charges for lying to various folks (FBI, Congress, Mueller and his folks).  Books have been written about lies and lying.  The truth is, we all lie.  When someone asks, “Do I look okay?”  We often answer (in fact, if the Barometer’s data are correct — it is 87% of us), in the interest of being kind, “Of course.” Even when we do not believe our friend, family member, or co-worker does indeed “look okay.”  That type of lie, often called the white lie, is not motivated by malice or intended to deceive.  We do not speak what we truly believe because of our concern for the other’s feelings.  

Yet, we have not spoken aloud what actually went through our brain.  Therein lies the rub.  We wear down our ability to speak the truth, and we chip away at the conscience that spurs us on when we need to tell the truth.  

Sometimes we are accused of lying, but we really have forgotten the truth and just spout what we believe to be the truth.  Again, there is no malice, but what we have done is still misleading,  We will eventually be confronted with, “But you said this,” or “Hey, you told me this!” In that careless moment we have compromised trust  and set up an incident that will be long in the tooth when it comes to what others remember about us and our actions.

Rather than trot down these two difficult paths of rationalization, use alternatives.  When the Barometer seeks a spousal opinion on appearance, the spouse of 42 years responds, “Do you want the truth or do you want to feel good?”  If there is not a 42-year relationship whose terms include tolerance, humor, and heavy doses of reality, make a suggestion about appearance that causes you to believe that the person does not “look okay.”  “Let’s get that spot out.”  “Maybe we could press the jacket.”  These phrases offer some signal that sends folks back to the mirror for a more introspective and a rethinking of reality.  

Sometimes, generic advance suggestions head off the need for the “okay” appearance evaluation. For students who are headed into interview season, we sit them down and show them what will make them look okay before they are headed into the one-on-one,  If we wait until the day of their interviews, we face of choice and saying, “Lose the 15 bracelets,” or sending them into the interview with a lie and unshaken confidence because we do not want a last-minute discussion of the dangling bangles.  Topics of discussion in advance generic session include tight clothes, short skirts, shaving, footwear.  

For the second “lie” of misremembering, before spouting answers, learn some phrases to clarify your certainty, “I believe this is what happened, but let me check.”  Or, “I am not sure, but I may be able to look back through my e-mails.”  Or, “I don’t know.”  Warning:  That last one is tricky.  If you know, but you are saying “I don’t know,” then we are back into lying territory, and probably with intent.  The same with, “I don’t recall,” or “I don’t remember.”  If you truly do not recall, you have spoken the truth.  If you recall, but do not want to answer, then you have a lie. See congressional testimony of James Comes for 245 times of saying one of the following: “Don’t know,” “Don’t recall,” and “Don’t remember.”

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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