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Jewish World Review June 24, 2002 / 14 Tamuz, 5762

Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney
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The truth about lying | Lies are a part of life. In spite of the admonitions we get beginning in childhood to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the most honest people among us don't live by that standard. It's too hard.

"How does this look?" a woman asks her husband as they're going out the door to a party. If he's lucky, he genuinely likes what it looks like. If he doesn't, he's in trouble because either he has to lie or tell the truth and start the whole evening off on the wrong foot. He not only has to lie but has to add to the deceit by lying enthusiastically. "It's OK" is not enough.

The woman's partly to blame for asking the question in the first place. Samuel Johnson put his finger on the problem when he said, "Nobody has the right to put another under such a difficulty that he must either hurt the person by telling the truth or hurt himself by telling what is not true."

Truth has a much better reputation than lying. We propagandize ourselves in favor of it every chance we get. All the wise men have endorsed it:

Plato - "Truth will prevail."

H.W. Shaw - "Truth is the edict of G-d."

Emerson - "Every violation of truth is a stab at the health of human society."

Woodrow Wilson - "The truth always matches, piece by piece, with other parts of the truth."

Mark Twain - "When in doubt, tell the truth."

In spite of the lip service we pay truth, we spend a lot of time deciding when to lie. It's good that lying doesn't come easily or naturally to most of us. We spend even more time trying to determine when we're being lied to and when we're being told the truth.

Advertising puts us to the test. We know companies lie, so how good is this product they're telling us about? And what about politicians? Not many people pick up the newspaper and read a story coming out of Washington without wondering whether they're getting the truth or some altered version of it. The elected officials who lie or tell less than the whole truth may, like the husband, believe that it's best for everyone if they don't go overboard being honest. The politicians can get themselves believing it's best for the American people if they do not know the whole truth. They are not lying for personal gain. This is called "Lying Made Easy."

Trying to discern whether we've been lied to or not is complicated when we start considering that maybe we were told part of the truth but not all the truth. Part of the truth is like a lie but worse because it's more devious.

As a guest on the Larry King show a few weeks ago, I said some things, in answer to his questions, that I would have been better off lying about or avoiding. It was not that the people who objected to what I said necessarily thought I was wrong. They thought I shouldn't have said it.

In my own defense, I told a boss of mine that I thought if all the truth about everything were known by everyone, it would be a better world. He scoffed. I think "scoff" is what he did. I know he rejected the idea.

I've thought about it and in retrospect decided he was right in dismissing what I had to say. It's a pompous statement that sounds true but probably isn't. Our lives could not survive all the truth about everything. If my boss asks me about it again though, I'm going to lie. Because I like the sound of it, I'm going to try to get my name in Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations" by saying "It would be a better world if everyone in it knew all the truth about everything."

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03/22/02: We're wasting away
03/13/02: Down with the semicolon!
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03/06/02: Uninformed and misinformed
03/01/02: Some thoughts on aging
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© 2002, TMS