Sunday, December 16, 2018

Confound everyone by telling the truth


Over the first 649 days of his presidency, Donald J. Trump has made 6,420 false or misleading claims, according to the writers of "The Fact Checker" column in The Washington Post. Keeping track of all of this massive volume "consumed the weekends and nights of The Fact Checker staff."

The Fact Checker writers noted that in his first nine months in office, the president had made 1,138 false or misleading statements, or about five per day. But the president made 1,419 in the seven weeks before the midterm elections, upping his game to 30 misstatements per day.

So "few lies are solitary ones," Sissela Bok wrote in Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (Vintage Books, 1989). "It is easy, a wit observed, to tell a lie, but hard to tell only one."

What's curious about the president's misstatements is that many of them can easily be checked with a quick Google search.

Typically, a liar would blanch at the thought of ever getting caught in a lie. It's not, after all, the first lie which is typically the problem, but the additional lies that are needed to support that first lie. It can be exhausting for most liars to keep track of the lies or misstatements to avoid getting caught.

It "takes an excellent memory to keep one's untruths in good repair and disentangled," wrote Bok. "The sheer energy the liar has to devote to shoring them up is energy the honest man can dispose of freely."

Nevertheless, the president's misstatements persist. But this too would come as no surprise to Bok. "After the first lies," she wrote, "others can come more easily. Psychological barriers wear down; lies seem more necessary, less reprehensible..."

The temptation might be to observe such behavior and determine that deliberately misstating or outright lying is not only acceptable, but necessary to achieve desired goals. A passage from the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament comes to mind: "So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance. Truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey."

Those who speak truth when all around them don't risk making themselves a target. The writers of The Fact Checker column can likely attest to being the recipient of many a well-targeted Tweet.

Ultimately, however, lies or misstatements take a toll -- if not on the person making them, then on those people who find themselves deliberately telling lies or making misstatements to help cover for the originator. The right thing is to avoid making deliberate misstatements and, when faced with the choice of whether to cover someone else's lie with a lie of their own if doing so results in getting them closer to the person they swore they never wanted to become.

Bok's book on lying proves an instructive primer on how destructive lies in public and private life can be. It is also a book chock full of observations from other thinkers on lying's lengthy history and the ensuing havoc wrought. Included among these is one from writer Mark Twain, which might prove a wonderful positive pivot if the right people are listening and taking heed: "When in doubt, tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends." 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

How should reader correct an appraiser's error?


Every decade or so, A.L., has some of her jewelry appraised so she can file the appraisal reports with her home insurance company in case anything is ever lost or stolen. While she's never had to file a report, A.L. takes comfort in knowing that she will be covered in case she ever has to.

Early last month, A.L. brought the existing appraisals into the jeweler she's worked with for years to have them updated. The appraiser told her how much the appraisals would cost and gave her a rough idea of how long it might take for her to receive the appraisals in the mail.

True to his word, the appraiser mailed off the appraisals to A.L.

A.L. was eager to get the new appraisals copied and sent off to her insurance company. As she looked through the appraisals, she noted how each of the values had changed, though none surprisingly so. When she got to the last appraisal in the stack, however, she was taken aback.

"It was for a pair of diamond stud earrings set in 14K gold," writes A.L. "The thing is, I don't own a pair of gold diamond stud earrings."

When she looked more closely at the appraisal, she noted that it was intended for a couple who lived in a town about 30 miles away from her.

"Clearly, the jeweler had messed up and sent me someone else's appraisal," she writes.

Now, A.L. is torn about what if any responsibility she has to correct the situation.

"Should I just send the appraisal to the right owner?" she asks? "Or should I call the jeweler and let him know about the mistake? Or should I do nothing and let them figure it out?"

While none of these options would be ethically wrong, A.L. is trying to determine the best right answer.

If she does nothing that leaves the rightful owner in the dark wondering where her appraisal is while the jeweler believes he sent her an appraisal she likely never received. If she just tells the owner, then the jeweler won't know he had made a mistake. Plus, if A.L. has a longstanding relationship with the jeweler, it would be thoughtful to give him a heads up that she had sent the appraisal on to the rightful owner.

It would be enough to just alert the jeweler to let him know about the error. But if she wants to go a step further and send the appraisal on to the owner of the earrings that would be thoughtful and likely appreciated.

After she decides how thoughtful she wants to be, the right thing is for A.L. to take action in keeping with that decision. Were it me, I'd send the appraisal onto the rightful owner and then alert the jeweler she had done so. If I were the owner of the earrings, that's what I'd prefer, and if I were the jeweler, I would want to know about my mistake so I could correct it and figure out how not to repeat it in the future. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Confound everyone by telling the truth

Over the first 649 days of his presidency, Donald J. Trump has made 6,420 false or misleading claims, according to the writers of "...