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Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. Headshot

A Nation of Liars: Caught Up in a Tangled Web

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"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."

Scottish novelist, Sir Walter Scott, may be moldering in his grave for almost 200 years but he pretty much nailed that quote when it comes to lying. Lying can lead to a real mess -- a tangled web -- just look at the news. Anthony Weiner resigned as a member of Congress, after sending out a really stupid picture of himself in his underwear over Twitter and lying about it. Initially, he said his Twitter account had been hacked. When asked point-blank by a reporter if the picture was of him, he responded, "You know, I can't say with certitude." Can't say with certitude? Who talks like that? At that point I said to myself, "liar."

Another infamous Anthony -- Casey -- captivated the nation with her murder trial in the death of her daughter. Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder but convicted of lying. She was convicted by the jury of lying to police. She was convicted by the public, who, after watching her face for weeks, said to itself, "liar."

Well, it takes one to know one. As a nation, we're all too familiar with liars. What about Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens and their purported steroid use? What about those 178 Atlanta school educators with the unbelievably stellar test scores? If you want to go back several years, what about Richard Nixon and the break-in at the Watergate hotel or Bill "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" Clinton?

As a nation, we're accustomed to being lied to. In some ways, we've come to expect it. We're also accustomed to lying and, it appears, we're passing this trait along to our kids. A recent ethics study among teenagers found that 48% of boys and 35% of girls lied to save money and 80% lied to a parent about something significant. Of course, it was difficult to get completely accurate numbers because 25% admitted they'd lied on at least one or two of the survey questions -- they lied about lying. There was a silver lining -- 92% of them felt satisfied about their personal ethics and character. Our kids may lie but at least they've learned to still feel good about themselves.

We expect people to lie, as a sort of knee-jerk reaction to being exposed. It brings us back to our childhood when we knocked over the lamp but swore with all our hearts it was the cat, or our sister or some random stranger. Certainly, the consequences of telling the truth can be painful, as we learned when we finally 'fessed up about the broken lamp.

Yes, the truth hurts but doesn't lying produce its own sort of damage? When it becomes nearly impossible for us to know the truth, we lose trust. We stop trusting in our own ability to discern the truth and we stop trusting in other people to tell us the truth. Maybe that's why Congress is at its lowest approval rating ever, at 6%, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, with 85% of likely voters believing most members of Congress are more interested in helping their own careers than in helping other people.

Before we start sounding the drumbeat of "throw the bums out," maybe we should stop first and reflect how true it is that we have a representative government. The behavior we so deplore in others is often just a reflection of what we've allowed in ourselves. Maybe if we want to stop being lied to, we need to first stop lying to ourselves.