Truth-Telling As a Way of Life

for the week of July 22, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

"Am I under oath here?" could become the mantra of our time. What a shame that would be! In everyday personal and family, business and professional life, there is no more critical need than to remember just how important truth-telling is for all of life not just when under oath in a courtroom.

Robert Feldman, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, ran an experiment recently which appears to show that people have become so good at lying that they sometimes don't even know they are doing it. He videotaped 121 pairs of students who'd just met. After a ten-minute conversation, each student was shown his or her tape and asked to point out any misrepresentations.

In their initial post-conversation interviews, most of the students were quite sure they had spoken truthfully. But when forced to review the videotape, fully sixty percent realized they had lied at least once. On average, most had lied two or three times in the ten-minute exchange with a stranger.

In case you're interested in this detail, the males most often lied to puff themselves up. Females, on the other hand, most often fudged the truth to claim more for others or to take the sharp edges off negative opinions of others.

Scandals in government, business, and church remind us how much harm can be done by falsehood, cooking the books, and silence in the face of wrongdoing. But Dr. Feldman's research reminds us that truth-telling in the ordinary routines of daily life is a challenge to every single one of us.

"He who permits himself to tell a lie once finds it much easier to do it a second and a third time," said one of the founding fathers of our country, "till at length it becomes habitual."

Beyond simply clucking our tongues at the big-scale dishonesty of a few, the clear personal challenge here is to discipline ourselves to make truthfulness a way of life. Honesty thus becomes habitual. With practice at speaking truthfully in life's little things, we become trustworthy souls whose word is our bond. Why not resolve to monitor your own truth-telling quotient carefully this week?

In family, corporation, society, or church, no one has the right to withhold information to which another is entitled. Trust makes community possible and is the first casualty of a lie. "So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another" (Ephesians 4:25).



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