During my final frolicking months of high school, my father grew suspicious about one of my high school friends, a wild guy even by high school standards. While not a close friend, he was a friend but even I felt uncomfortable around him. Sensing something sour in the kid, Dad told me to stop hanging out with him. I agreed not to do so. A month or so later on a weekend morning, my Dad said the kid's parents called him asking where their boy was. He had not come home the night before. When my Dad asked me if I had been with him that night, I told him I had not. I had been with the kid. I lied to my father. I almost never did. But I did that time. Honestly really was the primary way of doing business in my house.
I Iied because I feared whatever punishment my Dad might give me for disobeying his order. There was no telling what he might do, maybe ground me for a few weeks. Couldn't stand the thought of that during that once-in-a-lifetime graduation party season of glee. Most of all, I didn't want to disappoint him by revealing I had not done what I had been told. Feeling trapped, I weaseled my way out of it to avoid all the negatives that could have been hurled at me.
I never admitted this lie to my Dad, a hard-working and great man-until now.
Throughout my life I'm sure there have been a few other times when I have lied. Seriously, not many but a very few. Even within the past few weeks I wrote a blog that technically contained a lie. I wrote that I had registered to participate in the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contest. Even though untrue, I wrote this for dramatic effects, to jolt readers into believing I really had registered. I wanted an emotional reaction, a differentiated, memorable blog that many would read and talk about and say: "Hey, did you hear about the guy who wrote a blog saying he would participate, and planned to beat, the hot dog eating champion?" Cool story for the water color, right? I lied and misled for personal gain.
As a writer, you seek more readers, a bigger audience, more influence. You want to be listened to and viewed as an important voice worth peoples' eyeball time. So I lied because I thought it would boost my ratings, my stature as a writer. Several readers seemed convinced I really had registered. They seemed a little disappointed to have been duped by my ploy. But they also were entertained by the blog, got a good laugh. I entertained them. So I can somewhat credibly rationalize that my lie had good intentions and intended no harm other than to entertain and give people a chuckle. This is a rationalization, not an excuse. I feel slightly dirty for what I did, but glad people enjoyed the read. Life is complex.
The next time they read anything I write, will they believe a word of it? Or will they be suspicious, skeptical? If were them, I would be a little although I may let me slide; pleasure can mitigate morals sometimes. Can I win back their trust? I don't know. Do I want readers to be wary of what I write? No, not wary. I guess I want them to read my writing. More readers could lead to more income for me. Yes, this matters to me. Retirement looms. I haven't thought it all the way through. All I know is I lied to get attention.
Back to my father: There were times in college when I would be obliged to reveal to him my report cards. Some semesters weren't pretty. But I showed him. They were my grades in black and white. It was embarrassing and humiliating to show my father my academic deficiencies. I was ashamed. He was paying thousands of dollars for me to turn in pedestrian grades. Yet in one of the toughest classes I ever had in college, Organismic Biology, I received a grade of D. I am not embarrassed to reveal to you this grade because it's real-as were my others. I'm proud I passed the class which, as it turned out, enabled me to graduate on time. The truth, a grade of D, was more laudable than a better grade I may have had to cheat to earn. The truth is often bad information. But a bad truth trumps a good falsehood most of the time. Falsehoods and lies pollute relationships, souls, and society. They stymie progress, create detours and impediments.
A lawyer I know once told me that "everybody lies." Do you believe that? I suppose I do because I believe everyone is fallible. If everyone reading this looks in the mirror right now, they would have to face the fact that they have lied at least a few times, or maybe just once, in their lives. Be honest. It's one of life's axioms. The key is to lie as infrequently as possible and try to never do so. Lying cannot be a habit or anything close to that frequent. It should be avoided, a major taboo that makes you feel guilty and dirty. It's just wrong.
Which brings us to yesterday's news about baseball star Ryan Braun being suspended for 65 games for using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). I don't know how else to interpret this news than to conclude that Braun lied last year when he emphatically claimed in a press conference that "I'm innocent" when he had been accused of testing positive for using PEDs.
Like me with my father, I suspect when Braun lied he feared the consequences and embarrassment. These seem to be among the most frequent reasons people lie. Money also triggers a great many lies. Braun had millions of dollars at stake if he admitted he took the banned substances. He didn't want to lose that money, nor his name to be besmirched, nor his baseball stats to be questioned. He wanted to perform well enough to be inducted one day into the Baseball Hall of Fame. So he lied. And he will pay. There will never be a Hall of Fame ceremony for Ryan Braun.
Braun's tactic is understandable from an intellectual and self-centered perspective. But it wasn't right. It didn't show a 15 year old rising professional baseball prospect how to act in the big leagues. It showed that kid how to fight the system and cheat it until your back gets pinned to the wall. Yesterday Braun admitted to making "mistakes." He should have been more forthright and said he didn't tell the truth and misled many people last year when he denied the allegations. Instead he only admitted to mistakes. He made himself less appealing by being unwilling, not big enough, to fully own up to his misbehavior. We like people who make full blown apologies much more than half-baked ones, because the latter group reeks of insincerity and human weakness. They come across petty.
It's easy today to sit back and take shots at Braun for doing what he did. Media pundits are piling on. They should be careful. I bet every one of them has lied at some point in their lives. It's easy to feel like you and I would never do such a thing, cheat big-time and then lie about it before the whole world in a press conference. But if we're honest with ourselves, we may have considered the defiant route Braun chose. It would not have been right; but it would have been considered. Remember, millions of dollars floated in the air. We all know money matter so much to too many of us. Sadly, money often trumps doing what's right.
I am not in any way saying Braun did the right thing. He didn't. I am only saying that we should be careful in how we attack the man because it's likely we've done some bad things in our own lives. I'm not saying as bad as what he did. But bad for sure.
The biggest problem Braun now has-as all liars have-is the next time he opens his mouth he is less likely to be believed. His words carry less weight. People won't take him as seriously. He's discounted, less valuable to us, a smaller factor to consider, less influential. We can't take him to the bank. You can count on that. In general, people want to be taken seriously because we each believe our lives are important endeavors and that we matter and want to make our mark in the world. But Braun is suspect now and forever. He can apologize and apologize until his dying days and you and I will not be as willing to trust what he says as we would others who have not lied as blatantly as he did.
My father gave me plenty of advice as a kid, most of it sage. But the most valuable advice he ever gave me was about lying. "Don't ever lie," he said, "because if the person you lie to ever finds out you lied to him, he will never believe you the next time. And that next time you may be telling the truth."