Rotary eClub One, District 5450
World's 1st eClub (Jan 2002)

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The Truth, the Whole Truth And Nothing But the Truth? Really?

We are very familiar with the phrase "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" and what it implies. The message is that what is said "in a court of law" is the truth. If you don't tell the truth, you are guilty of what is called perjury and, if so, you are in trouble. There are even many legal documents that have you sign "...under penalty of perjury..." which is to say that if you sign here, you are swearing, by your signature, that it's the truth.

And it is . often NOT the truth.

I like this topic, for various reasons. First of all, because I am a truthful person. I don't believe in lying, and I am offended when people lie to me. It's as though they don't respect me as a person so they'd rather give me some malarkey rather than be honest with me.

Also, I'm a Rotarian. We have a "code" that Rotarians live by called The 4-Way Test. The purpose of The 4-Way Test is to evaluate that "in all we think, say, and do." we are holding ourselves to ethical and moral standards. Being truthful and honest is so important to The 4-Way Test that it is statement #1:

"Is it the TRUTH?"

While there are three other statements we have to pass to comply with The 4-Way Test, consider that if your thought or action doesn't pass statement #1, what's the point of continuing? In other words, if it isn't TRUE, does anything else matter?

Recently, I happened to see a segment on The Today Show about a new book just released by author James B. Stewart entitled Tangled Webs which explores how high-profile cases of perjury are not only undermining our judicial system, but in some ways, the very fabric of our society. Mr. Stewart talks about several "celebrity" cases in which celebs who perjure themselves on the stand in court are rarely held accountable, even though people know they are lying. It almost comes down to how well they can lie, not whether they are telling the truth, that gets them off.

The "truth" is that this is not only what happens in celebrity cases, but it also happens in true life. The "truth" is not valued the way it used to be. I have personally seen egregious cases of documented, written perjury, where the lies were spelled out in clear text. Yet, in spite of all the contradictions, and even lies told on the stand, no one was held accountable for the untruths that were told.

The ramifications are huge. If "truth" doesn't mean anything, then what can we depend on? I am not talking about differences in perspective or opinion, by the way.those things happen and we have to take them into account.

Downstream, there are effects on other aspects of society. Why do we require so many contracts? Well, because we can no longer depend on someone's handshake to be their word. Our kids are learning that the 11th commandment is "Don't Get Caught." Young people don't believe lying or cheating is a big deal, evidenced by recent studies that show more than 2/3rds of high school students have cheated on a test. We cannot trust or believe, because we know that people will tell us anything we want to hear just to make inroads, to get out of trouble, or to make themselves into more than they really are.

For me, I don't get it. The truth is SO simple. If you lie, you are introducing complexity. You may be lying to cover something you shouldn't have done, but now you have twice the burden to deal with: first the wrong you did, and second the lie you told to cover. I know there are pathological liars out there . I've been exposed to several, and they are the exception to the rule. But the "convenient" or "intentional" liars, I don't get. An intentional liar knows from the very first word that it will be necessary to track what is said. A good liar must repeat a lie well . and liars can't forget to avoid body language that might give them away.

If we can't depend on the "truth," there's not much else we can believe in. If leaders can't be depended on, why do we trust them to lead? If parents can't be honest with their children, is it a wonder that the children lie and fib? When high-profile individuals make up lies and are subsequently excused "because they can get away with it," it's clear that it is OUR job -- those people who believe in truth -- to make sure they are held accountable to fundamental truth.

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