A few things that tax one's credibility: the fifth anniversary of a going-out-of-business sale, promises from various owners that the Tampa Bay area will land a major league team or George Bush claiming to have been "out of the loop" during the arms-for-hostages discussions.
Once upon a time, not long ago, people usually told the truth. In those days, children were raised to respect the truth while lying was that portion of the commandments somehow mislaid when Moses stumbled down from Mount Sinai, fresh from his tete-a-tete with God and angrily smashed the inscribed stone tablets when he saw the degenerate activities the children of Israel had taken up. I am absolutely convinced that in the reconstructive activities to resurrect the smashed tablets, the 11th Commandment that dealt with lying was shattered beyond recognition.
Whatever happened to the truth? Did pollution or depletion of the ozone layer cause it to become extinct like the dinosaurs? Nowadays, it's almost impossible to know when you're being lied to. We should all immediately run for cover when, during the course of a conversation, someone proclaims, "To tell you the truth, Charlie . . ." "Trust me, Mabel . . ." or some similar assertion. The real truth is not about to be forthcoming _ count on it!
Lying has become an art form, with hardly anyone really dismayed any longer upon hearing an abject distortion of the truth. Lying with a straight face runs rampant in the land. Resumes are falsified with sickening regularity, oaths are blithely sworn even with one hand on the holy Bible, and swearing on the grave of a dearly departed flows forth as the utmost way to assure someone of the validity of a statement.
Lawyers, politicians and used car salesmen are viewed as licensed to lie as they daily conduct their often nefarious activities, and comedians regularly make light of this facet of these three professions. The high regard in which lawyers and politicians were once held is almost non-existent. Where the truth was bent a wee bit or a slight embellishment was the limit to which these professions would accede, we have produced in this country at least one generation of rabid skeptics and are courting a future generation of raging cynics who believe absolutely nothing lawyers and politicians assert. Not a pleasant prospect.
How did we get to this state? Heck, I can recall hearing people of my parents' generation say, "I know it's true 'cause I read it in the newspaper." Say that today and you'll be laughed right out of town. The truth occupies an extremely low position on the totem pole of elements that society values today. An utter shame! I wonder if the terms "white lie" and "fib" will appear soon on a list of archaic vocabulary in Webster's New World Dictionary. Will parents have to explain these concepts to their offspring who view lying as analogous to drawing breath?
The word "lie" is just not adequate to be allied with such momentous falsifying events as Iran-Contra, Iraq-gate, the savings and loan scandal, "your check's in the mail" or "I'll respect you in the morning." We need to create a new word to cover certain especially acrimonious and pernicious events where "lie" just won't do.
Perhaps most distressing is a general approbation that trust has become an uncommon commodity in today's world. Newspaper headlines are generated when a rare act of honesty occurs. A sad commentary indeed, say I, because I view lying, or twisting the facts, as a pseudo-felonious act, a prelude to more heinous deeds sure to come. The Germans have a saying, which loosely translated is, "If someone lies to you even once, he is not to be believed again, even though he might then tell the truth." A mite severe, I admit, but when drummed into my hard little head as a child, it left an indelible impression.
Not enough of us parents imparted to our children the Silver Rule: Lying is wrong. Had we done so, things conceivably would not have sunk to the depths they have, at least where the truth is concerned.
My father, a back-fence philosopher, was fond of saying, "Lying requires an excellent memory and is a whole lot of trouble _ good memory is transitory and the effort one has to put forth to make a lie stand up just isn't worth the trouble. That's why I tell the truth." Though not the philosopher Dad was, I like his homespun reasoning and wish we all could contemplate its logic when we are about to tell a lie.
The next time someone asks you, "Would I lie to you?" tell him or her very emphatically, "You bet _ you and almost everyone else." The shocked look you get in return will be reward enough and maybe will give the individual pause.
Eric B. Moch, former director of admissions and records and professor of foreign languages at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, retired to Treasure Island in 1990.