[January 29, 2019] In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke before a large crowd in Selma, Alabama where he said: “no lie can live forever.”1 The speech marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement that was to force American politicians to accept that all citizens had the right to vote finally. At the heart of MLK’s speech was a leadership lesson; that to lie is to destroy the dignity of people.
A few years ago, I told the story of my good friend Jane who lied on her application to be a U.S. Army officer.2 It was only a small lie; one that many would tell if given a chance. Her indiscretions with alcohol at college were relatively minor, but she knowingly omitted it on the required military entrance forms. When being considered for promotion to Brigadier General, her lies became known. She was discharged shortly after that.
It is true, unfortunately, that political leaders have greater leeway about what they say than everyone else. This doesn’t mean it is right or ethical. Because a leader may be given more space to do wrong is no excuse to take advantage of it. Lies travel fast. And people remember those lies and loss of trustworthiness.
With our current computer and media technology, everything we say or do is likely to be recorded and accessed forever. Just ask U.S. Congressman Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) how often people remind him about his lies on his military service in Vietnam.
More recently, a newly elected U.S. Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, lied on her Twitter account about U.S. foreign policy in Venezuela.3 See full posting below. She claims there is a “US back coup in Venezuela…” There is no such thing. Also, she said, “Trump’s efforts to install a far-right opposition will only incite violence…” Also not true. Anyone who has paid attention to the problems of Venezuela knows better. I’ve also written about the death spiral of Venezuela many times even before Trump was elected (see links here, here, here, and here).
Human greatness exists within our character and goodness. Lies destroy trust. Lies destroy the bond that is required for leaders (actually for everyone) to have a workable relationship with others and to succeed. It matters not our position in any organization, team, family, or group; to lie will be forever and it will destroy you.
Someone once said that the only way to cover up a lie is to keep lying. That’s what my grandmother Smith, “Bigmama,” told me and I believe her. That’s a leadership lesson that has always existed. Maybe some are just not paying attention to their grandmothers.
- Reverend Martin Luther King speech on March 25, 1965. Also known as his “Our God is Marching On” speech. “How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, you shall reap what you sow. How long? Not long … How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It can be found in this YouTube video here (1:59 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=IIT0ra9-mTc
- “A US backed coup in Venezuela is not a solution to the dire issues they face. Trump’s efforts to install a far right opposition will only incite violence and further destabilize the region. We must support Mexico, Uruguay & the Vatican’s efforts to facilitate a peaceful dialogue.” 7:46 PM, Jan 24, 2019 https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2019/01/shes-nuts-on-venezuela-too.php