Recently, I received an interesting email from an acquaintance, and while I was not surprised by its content, I was disheartened to know that some people actually condone what was written. The sender, a retired teacher and the head of a retired teachers' group, expressed the sentiment that, because everyone lies in their daily lives, we should not concern ourselves that politicians also lie. The fact that everyone does it seemed to be a credible excuse which the writer further justified by saying that it was "… the degree" of the lie that was important.
I do not equate lying with telling someone that their new hairdo is flattering. Why intentionally hurt someone's feelings? I do not equate lying with telling a terminal patient that there is still hope. Hope has been known to save lives. These variations on the truth are kindnesses we offer to comfort friends and acquaintances. Lies fall into a totally different category.
Usually, I ignore the emails I receive from this individual because they are ludicrous and filled with misconceptions and misinformation. However, this time I was forced to reply by asking him when, as a society, we started excusing unethical behavior based on the severity of a falsehood. I asked him if a lack of principles was what was passing for good behavior in our schools today and whether students were being rewarded not for the strength of their character but merely for not being as bad as the other kids.
As a child challenging authority, I often posed the everyone is doing it rationale to my mother. I vividly remember her asking me, "If everyone jumped off the George Washington Bridge, would you jump as well?" She did not expect me to answer. I knew that wasn’t the real question. She wanted to know if I preferred being a leader or a follower. The inference was, of course, that being a leader was much better because we all know what happens to sheep who follow a wolf in shepherd's clothing.
If everyone doing it has become an acceptable excuse for lying, what's next. Will there be acceptable reasons to rape and murder?
One last thing... the email writer offered a few examples to back up his views. He said that actors lie in commercials, car salesmen lie to customers, people on dating sites lie to potential mates, job hunters lie on resumes, and so forth. He actually related a story he had read in a medical journal about a medical school applicant who told the interviewer that he wanted to be a doctor so that he could be rich, own a big house, have servants, buy fancy cars and travel the world. The interviewer praised him by saying that other applicants who had expressed a need to offer care to the sick and the poor were insincere. He seemed to feel that this young man was a breath of fresh air.
I'm not sure which bothers me more -- the idea that someone goes into medicine only to be rich, the interviewer thinking that actually admitting to such a desire is praiseworthy or the concept that people really caring about each other is a total fabrication.
Donna M. Carbone is a published author and an advocate for women and veterans. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org