In his article, Are We a Nation of Liars, Frank J. Ranelli (2008) writes, "Not only have we become a nation of liars, but also we have become a complacent populace all too unwilling to challenge and champion for the truth, while we drown in a sea of hypocrisy and lies. When treachery and deceit are now the norm, it would rightly appear that, 'In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is [truly] a revolutionary act'."
Today, I had a discussion with Annmaria about cheating. She told me she was recently involved in a situation where it would have been very beneficial for her and many others had she been willing to cheat. However, when it came right down to it, she just couldn't cheat. "I just couldn't do it," she said. "So now what?" I asked her. "When good people lose their job and the organization goes to hell, are you going to feel guilty that you didn't cheat?"
Why couldn't Annmaria cheat? The answer lies in Charles Eastman's (Dakota, 1858 - 1939) statement about liars, "A person who was capable of lying was believed to be capable of committing other cowardly crimes against the tribe and was put to death to prevent the evil from doing more harm."
Charles Eastman's statement may sound a bit harsh, but if you really think about it in the context of the four values our Dakota ancestors lived by (courage, honesty, perseverance and generosity), Annmaria's reluctance to cheat, although she would have benefited greatly, makes perfect sense.
Honest people know that one lie leads to another and another and another... so Annmaria intuitively knew that even one lie would jeopardize her character. Here is an analogy. I have not had a drink of alcohol for 25 years, but I know that if I take one drink, I will want another and another and another and soon everything I have worked for would be down the tubes. This makes me deadly scared of alcohol the same way honest people are scared of starting to tell a lie.
Today, several of us who are on the same side of an issue, attended a meeting with our governing body. As we were waiting for the meeting to start, an elderly tribal member, who is on the opposite side of the issue, walked up to us and informed us he wanted to attend the meeting, "for his class" (his side). Knowing the person, I suspected he was lying, but I could see no way to tell him no. Sure enough, once in the meeting, the person asked to speak. He started off his statement with a lie, "I am not for or against...." when he had spoken up several times "for" the issue in the past. Then he made several other statements that were lies.... This is an example of how one lie easily leads to another and another.
Wait a minute, I thought we were talking about cheating, not lying? Actually, the two are one and the same. To our ancestors, the value of "honesty" meant more than not telling a fib or two. It meant, playing a game honestly; it meant not shirking one's responsibilities; it meant helping one another; it meant sharing; it meant being fair; and most of all, it meant living up to one's potential. Therefore, "A person who was capable of lying..." simply could not be depended on in all aspects of tribal life, which in turn endangered the tribe. Therefore, the person was put to death.
If we are indeed a nation of liars, as Frank Ranelli contends, then how does an honest person like Annmaria survive? By watching old Clint Eastwood movies. Just kidding.
Actually, one of the reasons I liked watching Clint Eastwood movies was because his character, Harry Callahan, did not worry about ethical behavior. Harry Callahan was a "good guy" and unlike Annmaria, he did not mind doing bad things to bad people. Remember, "Go ahead, make my day"? It did not bother Harry to beat up people, break laws, or shoot people as long as the bad guys got what was coming to them. Why were Harry Callahan's actions so appealing to so many? Because we all wish we could do wrong while doing right.
In all seriousness, I do not have a good answer to the question, "How does an honest person survive in this world?" Probably the best answer I can give is to surround yourself with honest persons. Or, in Annmaria's case, stay out of organizations that are run by dishonest people. I know that is not a very good answer, but that is all I have for now.
Ranelli, Frank J. (2008, February 16). Are we a nation of liars? The Smirking Chimp. Retrieved from: http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/12884