Telling the Truth – Thinking about Truth-Telling, and the “Little Ways” we Don’t Tell the Truth

a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.

Everyone knows the kinds of things he has told them before and not told them, but who knows what this time, out of the silence, he will tell them?
Let him tell them the truth.
Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth


There are big lies and small lies. There are big ”we all have decided to believe this” lies that hide painful failings.

In Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, he basically says that the United States government and people have been lying to the people of color. This great nation promised a government that honored the claim that “all men are created equal.”  From the speech:

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

In other words, Dr. King said “you have not been telling us the truth.”  In other words, you say one thing, but you do another – you lie.

There is a difference between being wrong (“I did not know fully”) and lying (“I knew – but chose to tell the untruth – the lie”). Intent has a lot to do behind the lies we tell.

Consider these: “there is no more racism in this country.” Or, “there is no such thing as ‘White privilege.’” Both of those are false; they are not true. In a culture where an elected school board member in east Texas puts a photo of a hooded KKK member, with the words “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” on his Facebook page (yes, this year; just a few weeks ago – he has now resigned. Read about it here), and then denies that he intended it as a racist statement… well, there is still plenty of racism to go around. He is not telling the truth! (Every defense or the Confederate Flag reveals some sort of willful blindness about the racism behind that flag. Read about the Cornerstone Speech, delivered by the Vice-President of the Confederate States of America at the founding of that “new nation”).

I thought of all this when I came across one short passage in The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. How many people have stated that Al Gore claimed to have “invented the internet.”  They made fun of him for his claim to have “invented the internet?”  Well, people who repeat this are not telling the truth. He never made such a claim. Here’s the passage from Isaacson book:

(What Al Gore actually said): “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”

(What the actual creators of the internet said about this): Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, two of the people who did in fact invent the internet’s protocols, spoke up on Gore’s behalf: “No one in public life has been more intellectually engaged in helping to create the climate for a thriving Internet than the Vice President,” they wrote.
Newt Gingrich defended him, observing, “It’s something Gore had worked on a long time. . . . Gore is not the Father of the Internet, but in all fairness, Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet.”

And, as I read through that section of Isaacson’s book, I realized that without the work of Al Gore, and others in Congress, the internet might have never been developed. (The book makes quite a case for big government programs when it comes to great big needs — the development of the computer, the transistor, the microchip were all greatly financed by government money/ Yes, mainly because these developments were needed in our national defense).

But, for this post, here’s the point: why do people so casually repeat this story, or any story, that is not true? Why do they ridicule Al Gore for something that he did not in fact say?

Why do you do similar things yourself? – (Yes, and me also – there have been times in my life when I have not been a focused, consistent, truth-teller?).

If enough people treat truth so casually, we end up losing a sense of trustworthiness and credibility throughout our culture.

And a culture that loses its devotion to truth-telling is in a very dangerous state…


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