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Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

May 20, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 32




Sister Rita Larivee Managed truth (a.k.a. 'lying')

Sister Rita Larivee, SSA, NCR associate publisher

A report came out of London recently saying politicians lie. The report didn't surprise me, and I must say that I've come to expect some "truth management" from public officials. Political lying is hardly condoned, yet many take it lightly. And though not a virtue by any standard, lying is often seen as legitimate if necessary to protect us.

We've allowed ourselves to believe that a controlled amount of misstatements from our political leaders is acceptable and we've come to tolerate such behavior.

But whichever way one looks at it, lying is about untruth. It's a willingness to misrepresent someone or something, regardless of how it is justified.

Contrary to this legitimization of lying is a practice found among the Jains of India. It is a commitment to saying only the truth and more particularly the truth that does no harm.

Refreshingly, Jainism, an ancient religion going back thousands of years, teaches that both lying and the truth that deliberately hurts another are activities best left aside. Both actions are forms of violence that can only lead to more violence. Neither action nurtures relationships nor builds community.

Words are very important for Jains. Words are bridges for crossing the barriers that stop us from understanding each other. To use words in any other way is comparable to removing the nails that hold the bridge planks side by side. Offenses do not have to be large to weaken the bridge. A misspoken word, a "white lie" or a shading of the truth removes nails one at a time, so that eventually, without knowing which word caused the crack, the bridge is suddenly destabilized.

The Jains won't tell us that lying is wrong. They won't preach to us about the morality of such actions and whether the security of a nation, even for its own protection, is worth an untruth from time to time. But they will tell us that anything short of the greatest respect for truth does more to harm the world than we think. They simply will not compromise on this point.

They would say that attempts to convince ourselves otherwise are more about power and control than about life. It's a way of convincing ourselves that we can manipulate our way to peace and that we need to manage truth for our own good.

There is nothing edifying about leaders who lie. The erosion of truth will eventually wash away the legitimacy of the office.

Truth does not need to be managed; it needs to be respected.

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