When Leaders Lying to you is Okay

By | October 6, 2018

[October 6, 2018]  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote that anyone who uses violence as a method to suppress people must then “inexorably choose lying as his principle.”    After many years in Soviet-communist labor camps and prisons, he knows of what he speaks.  He would tell us that leaders lying to you is not okay.

The idea that lies from a leader is unacceptable – either philosophically or practically – is one that has been around since before recorded history.  However, there are many who say that lying is acceptable under certain, less-well-defined circumstances.  I’ll not get much into this idea, except to point out that as far back as Plato people could distinguish between lies that are always improper and lies against enemies.1

In today’s world o,ne would think that we actually accept lying unequivocally.  A few years ago, I wrote a piece on this very issue and noted with sadness that lying is actually encouraged.  However, the serious and harmful consequences still undermine our leaders, organizations, and the people who follow.2  Perhaps our society is destined to relearn lessons of the past the hard way.

In the U.S. military, where the majority of my life was spent, lying to your soldiers and leaders was simply not done.  Lying to the enemy (as Plato wrote about it) was not lying but a form of propaganda and false intelligence.  We distinguished, like he did, that there were times when lies were not to be tolerated and other times lies (not what we called it) was okay.

Solzhenitsyn wrote that the basis of communism is the big lie.  His writings span several decades but my personal favorite is the three-volume set of The Gulag Archipelago.  This year is the 50th anniversary of its publication and one of the first deep looks into the Soviet Union, Communism, and the bureaucratic-autocratic methods used to destroy people’s lives.

It’s not okay for your leaders to lie to you.  The fact that it happens anyway and justifications are given seem to satisfy the morally weak mind, is no excuse.  I have found that in our society that lying has been taken to new heights in incredulousness.  Despite the efforts by many to stop this slippery slide, our political elite have done little to halt its onward advance.

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  1. http://www.collegetermpapers.com/TermPapers/Philosophy/platos_veiw_on_lying.shtml
  2. https://www.theleadermaker.com/leader-trends-do-we-encourage-lying/
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “When Leaders Lying to you is Okay

  1. Terri Issa

    Couldn’t agree more with this article!

    Also, I have a friend that is a Russian immigrant to America. She compares the current Russian government to the old Soviet regime as:

    Soviet leaders were gangsters and bullies;
    Current Russian leaders are political gangsters and bullies, devolving into the former.

    Reply
  2. Jonathan B.

    History is rich in leaders who decided that spin, omission or outright lies — whatever it took to get people to do what had to be done — would serve their constituencies better than the truth.

    Reply
  3. The Kid 1945

    Nicely written on a very old subject. It may never be resolved whether lying by leaders is acceptable but the very discussion is highly educational and should be encouraged.

    Reply
    1. Albert Ayer

      I agree with you that the very discussion itself provides enormous value to the intellect of the leader. Thanks.

      Reply
  4. Eric Coda

    Not surprisingly, there is hardly any stigma attached to lying about one’s reservation price in business dealings. Indeed, one might argue that this kind of bluffing is not lying, because, to quote the British statesman Henry Taylor, a “falsehood ceases to be a falsehood when it is understood on all sides that the truth is not expected to be spoken.” I reject that logic, however, because both the buyer and seller are telling falsehoods that are intended to deceive the other side, which is the essence of lying.

    Reply
  5. Dale Paul Fox

    Another great article. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for putting this into perspective.

    Reply
  6. Mark Evans

    It’s not enough to just tell the truth but it must be told in the context of the situation so that we do not also mislead or purposefully distort what we’re talking about as leaders. In a time of war, I know that the rules change a bit but not by much. Later it is to be atoned for any lying that may have occurred under wartime circumstances.

    Reply
  7. Drew Dill

    It tells us a lot about the character of a person if they lie, cheat, or steal.

    Reply
  8. Max Foster

    It should surprise no one that lying is considered a “sin” and should be treated as a bad character flaw. Reading the texts of ancient philosophers you will find them especially discussing this issue and when it is “okay” to lie. That they addressed it long ago show how we continue to struggle with it. Maybe we should have another word than “lie” when we do it to our enemies.

    Reply
    1. Nick Lighthouse

      Good note, Max. Leaders need to take this lesson to heart. If you are going to lie to your people, then expect to face the consquences.

      Reply
    2. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      Hey, well said Max. Keep up the great comments. You made my day.

      Reply
  9. Army Captain

    All that I can say is that I fully agree with you. There is no excuse for your leaders to lie to you. If they do, then they should take the last honorable way out and resign their job.

    Reply
    1. Darryl Sitterly

      I’m glad you also agree with Gen. Satterfield on this topic. I’ve always been of the mindset that people who lie only think about what they say in the short-term and ignore their future too much. That is why they are not often trusted.

      Reply

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