Based on the white hot media explosion over the recent confessions of cyclist Lance Armstrong, you’d think we, the “whatever-is-true-for-you-is-true” American people are both shocked and scandalized by lying.
Which would be pretty funny if it weren’t so hypocritical.
Watching Armstrong confess to lying about his use of performance enhancing drugs to Oprah, without much squirming, ought to be more of a chance for some collective humility than righteous indignation.
I suppose we can’t be sure that, as Armstrong said, pretty much “everybody” was doping during the years he won seven Tour de France races. But we can be sure of this much: Everybody lies. And that’s leaving out the charity “white” lies, like telling people they don’t look fat.
Yeah, I know. Armstrong’s premeditated, constant, aggressive lying was worse, for multiple reasons, than what we do pretty much every day. He made many millions from it. He threatened others who told the truth. He disgraced and undermined the credibility of cycling. He also brought shame on his cancer foundation, Livestrong.
In short, his lies damaged a lot of people. Ours, we say, are mostly harmless.
But at another level, telling ourselves we’re so much better than Armstrong is a bit like saying a guy who kills one person gets a pass because he didn’t fly a plane into the World Trade Center and slaughter more than 3,000 at once. There is an enormous difference of scale, but both acts are evil.
Beyond that, excusing “less damaging” lies is a good way to corrode what small level of trust still remains among us. Why do you suppose Congress is held in such low esteem? It is not just because we think those in whatever party we don’t like are a bunch of crooks and villains. It is because, deep down, we know we can’t trust any of them. We know even the ones we like are mostly telling us what we want to hear – not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.