Truth and Lies

Moral DllemmaThe tsunami of truths, half-truths, and falsehoods swirling around the current presidential campaign brought to mind a phone conversation I had with an irate parent early in my career at a boarding school.

“I cannot believe my daughter was grounded for crossing the street,” the parent exhorted. I was taken aback. Then I understood. Well, yes, her daughter had been grounded for “crossing the street.” But the “crossing” in question involved a late-night pajama run to the closest Wendy’s, which happened not only off-campus and after curfew but involved crossing a busy, four-lane road.

“Oh,” said the voice on the other end. “I didn’t realize.”

It is easy to condemn a political culture that has made partial truths a way of being. But this student’s classic sin of omission highlights how all of us conveniently interpret reality to our advantage from time-to-time—not only political campaigns and network commentators.

The current propensity for political truth-bending (and downright lying) requires more than self-righteous disgust. It’s an opportunity to take a hard look at our ourselves. What “rules of engagement” do we model when people of good will disagree about deeply held convictions? How do our own institutions behave? And can we help our students to develop the tools and mind-sets required to rigorously examine complex ideas and issues with an open mind, cognizant that self-interest, self-preservation, and self-delusion can get in the way?

Episcopal schools are perfectly positioned to take on these complex and heady issues—and to set the ”honesty bar” bar high for ourselves, our boards, our faculties and staffs, our families and, most importantly, for our students.