“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!” – Sir Walter Scott
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Remember the last time you were pulled over for speeding and the officer asked, “Do you know how fast you were going?” or “Have you been drinking?” Did you answer honestly? Probably not.
While it can be a crime to make false statements to the police, that one’s not likely to land you in jail. Nor does it make you a bad person. We’ve all been there.
The important question is, how did it make you feel? Probably a little like when you lied to your parents or teachers as a kid. Uncomfortable. Guilty. Like you shrunk a foot or two. That’s the reaction most people would have. If not, look out below; as I see it, it’s a slippery slope on the way to Clinton Town.
Don’t get me wrong; this is not a political piece. But whichever way you lean, you’ve got to admit that lying has become something of an art form for some leaders in general and political leaders in particular. Whether it’s to Congress, the FBI or the American people doesn’t seem to matter. Lying is becoming an accepted societal norm.
Which begs the question of why? Why do those with power and influence lie, why is that becoming more socially acceptable, and is there a connection between the two?
A cynic might say they do it because they know they can get away with it, or that they possess “a certain morale flexibility,” to quote John Cusack’s assassin character in the movie Grosse Pointe Blank. But, I believe, the truth about people who lie is quite a bit less thoughtful and philosophical than that. It’s more about learned behavior.
From the day we realize that crying brings parental attention, the die is cast. After that, it really depends on whether bad behavior is reinforced by coddling parents, teachers and bosses or not. At some point in the great game of trial and error that is life, we all try our hand at lying. If we get caught and get our hand slapped, we learn our lesson.
If not – worse still, if good things come of it – that behavior is reinforced. And so on … all the way to the c-suite or the oval office.
Now here’s the really bad news. We live in the golden age of coddling known as political correctness. The growing trend to level the playing field and avoid singling anyone out for bad behavior has created a laundry list of consequences that nobody wants to have to deal with.
We may be labeled racists, misogynists, homophobes, xenophobes or purveyors of hate speech. Employers may get sued. Companies may get boycotted. Teachers may get sanctioned. Parents may get a visit from child protective services. So what do we do? We hold our tongues. And that’s breeding accountability right out of our culture.
Not only that, but political correctness is also a self-reinforcing trend.
The other day, a conservative woman I know told me that she often lies about her political views because everyone around her in the Bay Area expresses their liberal views so openly and forcefully that she doesn’t want to make waves, especially not with customers and coworkers.
I hear similar stories of growing pressure to conform to cultural norms in public schools, universities and workplaces. The same is true on social media. I’m sure this column will cost me two or three dozen Twitter followers just for my calling it as I see it when it comes to someone who may very well become our nation’s next President. That’s downright chilling.
And make no mistake, the same is happening with business leaders, as well.
The first time I heard a senior executive outright lie in the boardroom of a public company, I remember thinking, “The gall of that guy!” There were no consequences. The second time he did it, I thought, “He must be a narcissist, psychopath or some other form of behavioral misfit.” Still, no consequences. The third time, I was numb to it.
That’s a powerful metaphor for what’s happening throughout our society. By failing to reinforce honest behavior and hold people accountable for dishonesty, political correctness is undermining the very integrity of our culture. And it’s becoming so pervasive that we’re all becoming numb to it.