shades of honesty

This morning on CBC Early Edition, Rick Cluff asked me an uncomfortable question; “Did you ever lie when you were in office?” Uncomfortable because there’s no safe, honest way to answer the question directly. It fits among others, such as… Do I look fat in this dress? or… When did you stop beating your wife?

As noted in previous posts, particularly we’re all liars from just last week, Homo sapiens are not perfectly honest creatures. We lie to ourselves and each other frequently, daily. Anyone who says he doesn’t lie just proved himself a liar. I am just as human as you are. I have lied. I remained human when I held an elected office. I lied there too. Given the realities of human nature, is the issue of honesty black and white? Is it realistic to expect someone seeking public office to suddenly shed their humanness to become the most honest person in their community?

I’m hoping my petition spurs a public dialogue on the shades of grey of honesty. At what point does an innocent white lie, intended to make a better story or prevent unnecessary insult, become a black lie of unacceptable deception or unfair characterization? I think it depends on who you’re lying to and what you’re lying about. I’m not suggesting that lying is ok, and certainly not attempting to justify dishonesty, my own or anyone else’s. However, I think everyone could agree that the severity of a lie depends on the context.

The scale of dishonesty tolerance, especially for public officials, should include that person’s willingness to accept responsibility for their choice to be less than purely honest. Public trust depends heavily on accountability. Accepting the fact that all people are liars should not be a free pass for politicians to lie, but at the same time, the threshold needs to be realistic. Rather than discredit all politicians as liars, we should be enforcing boundaries on dishonesty while also holding ourselves to the same standard.

We do ourselves a disservice when we talk about lying as a yes or no question, black or white issue. Integrity is about more than being purely honest. Integrity requires trust. For a politician to be successful, that trust needs to be reciprocated. Unfortunately, the cynicism focused on politicians results in perpetual disappointment for both citizens and their elected representatives.

In the case of my petition, part of Coleridge’s defence seems to be to portray me as a hypocrite – if I’m a liar, I shouldn’t criticize his lies. This, of course, ignores the realities of human nature, considers all lies to be of equal weight, and doesn’t consider accountability. I am human, therefore, I am a liar. There’s no debate there. We should not be demonizing politicians for being just as human as the rest of their species. What is different about Coleridge’s lies is that they were hurtful to other people; they created an unfair characterization of other election candidates; and when he was confronted on his lies, he told more lies to cover his tracks, then more lies to cover those lies.

When I realized I made a mistake or provided incorrect information, I apologized and set the record straight. That’s the difference between any mistruths I told during my time on city council and those from Coleridge during the campaign. His were intended to harm the reputations of other candidates and he refused to accept responsibility for his lies until it was in BC Supreme Court. That’s not just crossing the threshold from human to immoral (that’s the adjective used by Coleridge’s own lawyer to describe his client’s behaviour), but I believe he also broke the law.

One Response to “shades of honesty”

  1. dl Says:

    Visit dl

    why is the coverup, the lie(s) itself, more important to you than the validity and accuracy of source documentation used to support election campaign propaganda? If the source documentation is valid, then there is no reason for a lie.

    Taking months to create disinformation, followed by a review of all candidates running in an election to determine which candidates fit the profile supported by the disinformation; then to communicate the targeted disinformation propaganda justified as a “marketing program” – those purposeful actions knowingly taken, came out under oath in the court on the day you weren’t in attendance, and may be considered more dangerous than the coverup.

    My 6 year old niece has the ability to tell reality from fantasy enough to realize that in real life, a helicopter can not lift a 20 story building up. She also knows that the helicopter can not put it on top of another 20 building to make a 40 story building. Yet a 16 year veteran politician in his late 40′s or so, can confidently use a section of public meeting minutes, where someone talked about a helicopter picking up one 20 story building and putting it on top of another 20 story building to make a 40 story building; someone else in attendance during that meeting agreed that “it would make a beautiful building”. This agreement was used as “proof” of belonging to a secret real estate slate.

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