[August 21, 2019] It was a suggestion from my daughter that I write another article about what happens when leaders lie. Like me, she too is keenly conscious of leaders who lie. She said something recently that reminded me of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.
“By a lie, a man… annihilates his dignity as a man” – Immanuel Kant, German philosopher
My daughter told me that when her leaders lie to her (or to anyone in her unit), “they’re killing our dignity.” I thought her comment was rather insightful and put in such a way that it made me immediately think how lying is a form of betrayal. Lying will kill your dignity faster than just about any behavior.
Humans are programmed to detect lying. I believe this deeply. I’m not sure if this is something we learned growing up or if it is an inborn trait – or both – but what I do know is that most people can easily spot a lie when they hear it.
The biggest problem I see when leaders lie is that the lie always has serious, negative consequences. Just the other day, for example, several U.S. presidential candidates lied about an incident in 2014 that led to destructive riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Elizabeth Warren, one of the leading candidates, said that “[Michael] Brown was murdered by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri …”1 This is, of course, a lie.2 The results are predictable and bad: more divisiveness and violence.
When leaders lie, they lower their character; breaking the bonds of trust and confidence that people rightly expect to have in that leader. Leaders who lie are saying to us that they do not believe we can think or make good, moral decisions. When we are lied to, we are viewed as somehow less than human, something to be stepped on and ignored. In other words, lying is the killer of our dignity.
Lies will follow you forever; whether in your mind or across the memories of those who are lied to. In earlier articles, I wrote that when leaders lie, they will forever be judged as untrustworthy. And that lie will follow them forever. There’s a quote by John in the Bible, that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”3 For those who are truth-tellers, only they fully understand the strength of this advice.
- Elizabeth Warren is also the politician who lied about her American Indian ancestry multiple times in the past and used it as leverage for better-paying, pretigeous jobs.