By Fred Kusch  

“I’m not upset that you lied to me; I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

How many of us grew up hearing the legend of George Washington not being able to lie to his father about cutting down the cherry tree? I wish I would have taken that admonishment to heart early on, but no, I had to learn the hard way. As a result, I found it hard to sit down several times before I was 10 years old. 

Frankly, the only time my dad ever laid a hand on me was when I lied or when I was cruel to a classmate. Perhaps my best recollection is when a buddy of mine and I found some purple paint and decided that a neighbor’s fence needed to be brightened up a bit. Needless to say, Mom and Dad found out about my misdeed as parents always seem to do. Of course, I profusely denied the wrongdoing. Then Dad pulled out the evidence—my new tennis shoes, covered in purple paint. I paid the price for that one. A quote from Donald Hicks seems appropriate here: “Regardless of how far a person runs, a lie will eventually catch up to them.” No doubt about it, you can run but you sure can’t hide, especially from your mom and dad and your purple tennis shoes.

The actor John Cusack once said, “There are some good people. But a good chunk of them will lie for no reason at all—it’ll be ten o’clock and they’ll tell you it’s nine. You’re looking at the clock and you can’t even fathom why they’re lying. They just lie because that’s what they do.” 

For some reason another old adage, “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” popped into my head as well. Look at our culture today. Isn’t it hard to fathom why so many people refuse to recognize clear, well-researched facts? Denial of facts seems to be an everyday or every hour occurrence. What is this all about? Don’t you just want to shout, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” at the television screen, especially when it’s a political leader? The idea that seemingly intelligent people reject facts is frightening to me. It’s like there is a movement to celebrate a modern-day version of Monty Python’s parody of the Spanish Inquisition. If you don’t know what I am referencing, I strongly urge you to rent a copy of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and check out the Spanish Inquisition segments. They are frighteningly funny. The ridiculous, constant nastiness of public discourse is reminiscent of a “Flying Circus.”

Don’t you think it’s crazy that there are a number of websites that list the lies politicians make in their public presentations? A reprisal of the Pinocchio story might be in order. Wouldn’t it be great if someone could wave a magic wand so that when any public figure lied or stretched the true for their own interests, his or her nose would grow? Pinocchio learned the truth of the great Czech revolutionary Vaclav Havel’s proclamation, “Lying can never save us from another lie.”

While I am invoking icons of honesty, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Honest Abe Lincoln.” By most accounts, he and George Washington are our most beloved presidents. When one thinks of character, high morals and integrity, Lincoln and Washington stand out. They both recognized that they had “feet of clay.” No matter what one thinks from a historical perspective, they put the nation first, not themselves. Lincoln is clearly a role model that today’s political leaders should and perhaps must invoke. He is and was the role model for ethical leadership. The message is, you can’t lie and lead ethically. 

Perhaps today’s leaders should remember Mark Twain’s admonition, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” They would have to remember, however, that he was a journalist and not a purveyor of “fake news.” I am certain that he would be outraged at the very notion of fake news and the vicious attack on the Fourth Estate.

So, if you are considering a lie to support your agenda or if you support someone who uses lies to put their agenda forward, remember Martin Luther King’s warning, “A lie cannot live.” Otherwise, make sure you’ve thrown your purple tennis shoes away before you go home!

Fred Kusch, president and CEO of JFK Associates, is a well-known speaker, author, consultant and business coach. For more information, visit jfkassociates.com.