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Young and Minority Leaders

There's No Such Thing as a Little Murder

Carol Forsloff asked:

There’s No Such Thing as A Little Murder

By Carol Forsloff

These days folks can lie, cheat, steal, and do almost anything and get away with it, in politics, in government and in personal life.  The response “mistakes were made” takes the place of “fessing up.”  But my Mom would say about any of these things, “There’s no such thing as a little murder.”  I heard that statement many times as a kid when I used a variety of made-up stories to lie to her about why I came home late after school.  Mom would catch the lie, and I’d be reminded again about murder.  When I asked her what she meant, I was told just to think about it for awhile, along with what I’d done.   

Mom’s message rang for me recently as I listened to political parsing to confuse fiction and truth during election campaigns.  I didn’t know what she meant at first, but when I did I had a way to look at my mistakes and understand that wrong isn’t relative.   In fact that valuable guidance could help us get back to where we need to be with each other, where truth and honesty and doing good for others is held as a high standard for everyone and where doing anything against that standard is just like murder and just plain wrong.

In small towns and groups the murder seems to be gossip.  In fact if one were simply to listen to that, and nothing else, there wouldn’t be anyone to enjoy or admire anywhere because everyone would be suspect.  The consequences of gossip, especially the spreading of falsehoods, on a grand scale are demoralization of some citizens, reduced voting and participation, and general apathy.  Economic progress is impaired along with social programs and other venues designed to help others, since anyone oriented towards help is then accused of having a devious agenda of some sort by someone.

On a national scale the problems are magnified by falsehoods.  We have war, religious strife, cultural clashes, and the denigration of Constitutional safeguards because our leaders commit the murders of gossip and lies and disguise these as patriotic platitudes, excusing them, when uncovered, as “mistakes were made.”  Our Executives, the President, both Democrat and Republican, have not exemplified truth in public dealings from Clinton’s Oval Office rendezvous to Bush’s tolerance for, and maybe instigation of, interdepartmental machinations that cost people reputations and livelihoods.  When the “parent” example is set low, the “children” of the nation follow suit; and the frequency of “mistakes were made” used to excuse rather than taking responsibility becomes the order of the day.

Research tells us that lies are accepted as truth if repeated enough.  In fact, even when they are retracted later, most people will continue to believe the lie, even when the truth is known.  An example of this is the issue about weapons of mass destruction associated with Iraq and used as motive for the present war with that country.  Bush acknowledged two years after the claim that Iraq had been no weapons of mass destruction.  He further explained that the instigators of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, and the perpetrators of it, were not Iraqi.  Yet more than 1/3 of all Americans continue to believe the earlier claim of a tie between Iraq and the bombing on 9/ll.   This example, and others, substantiates that the interval of time between the lie and the revelation of truth has little impact on the continuing belief in the lie.

The politics of personal destruction where one candidate makes false claims about an opponent’s character is a concept that is based upon known research about falsehoods and the effects on beliefs.  By the time the truth is known, many people already believe the lie and will act in accordance with it.  This has a significant effect on the outcome of votes in any given election.   It can bring a demagogue to power with terrible consequences.  Power pushers know that large numbers of people can be manipulated by simply repeating lies, and that historical truths can be twisted, or discarded; and folks will begin to doubt even their most cherished and fundamental beliefs.  They can be convinced that a particular group is responsible for their hardships or difficulties.  The more alienated or unique the group from the majority, the easier the lie is believed.  Thus someone like Hitler could tell the Germans that Jews, a minority in the country, in fact were responsible for economic hardships, and the Germans would then either ignore or aid in the genocide that followed.  The lie became their truth and guided the behavior of an entire nation.

The effect of lying can be devastating not only for a nation but for an individual as well.

Defense against it becomes increasingly difficult the longer the lie remains.  This creates personal stress that can lead to serious depression, and even suicide.  The young child who is lied about and ridiculed at school becomes the desperate, confused adolescent who later takes a gun and kills his classmates, then himself.

Some folks think they can lie, and that it’s all right because of free speech.  But that’s not true.  Speech must be verifiable; otherwise it risks loss of First Amendment protection.  And because slander (lying with spoken words) and libel (lying in writing) have legal consequences, if there is intended harm, lying can cause problems for the offender as well as the target of the lie.

Thus the statement my Mother used to illustrate the dangers of lies, associating them with murder, makes sense when we think about the risks to individuals and nations.  Lies can seriously hurt or destroy others, so we must be careful what we say.  When we make a mistake, as does everyone, we must take admit it rather than lie because, as my Mother said, there’s no such thing as a little murder.   I suggest we recognize our errors for what they are, own up to them, and take responsibility for our actions so our children learn to do the same.  And that we ask our leaders to do likewise.

To change our behaviors and attitudes requires a change of heart that we can’t do by ourselves.  So what do we need to do it?  We need time to go within to look for our inner guidance since all truth comes from within ourselves.  When love is in the front, fear retreats, truth prevails; and our little murders end.    We recognize what’s right and wrong and admit our failures so we can move forward.  Truth has no secrets when we open our hearts to love, advice given by the sages of old, an eternal truth that removes most reasons for lies.

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