Archive for Sunday, October 31, 2004

Commentary: Lying erodes trust, weakens character

October 31, 2004


Suppose you're late because you didn't leave on time, or you didn't return a phone call because you wanted to avoid a discussion. It's easy to make up an excuse: bad traffic, phone problems, "Didn't you get the message?" What's wrong with slipping out of a jam, especially if no one is really hurt and there's little chance of getting caught?

Editor's note: This is one in a series of commentaries by Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and the Character Counts! coalition. He will speak Nov. 8 in Lawrence.

I've talked before about lies being like reckless driving. They're wrong, not because they always cause injury, but because they irresponsibly endanger credibility and jeopardize important relationships. When you get caught, and you occasionally will, the cover-up is usually worse than the underlying offense. What's more, in addition to casting doubt on all your other excuses, your willingness to tell these sorts of lies weakens your will to do the right thing.

Let's face it, there are situations where telling the truth could cause dire consequences: a divorce, loss of your job or the distrust of a dear friend. But the old saying "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime" reminds us that the best way to avoid lies is to avoid the kind of conduct we would lie about. Knowing we can lie often weakens our resolve at the crucial moment of decision.

It's a pity how often we chisel away at our integrity for the slightest and silliest of reasons. Yes, lies corrupt our lives and threaten our relationships, but there's more. When lying becomes an acceptable coping mechanism, it begins to define our character.

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