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LOWELL GRISHAM: Enduring truths about lies

Commitment to truth at the center of nation’s recovery by Lowell Grisham | January 26, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

A commitment to truth is a necessary step along the road toward spiritual and psychological health. Commitment to truth is a basic value of Christianity and of all of the enduring spiritual traditions. It is also an elemental principle of secular psychological and self-help disciplines. Truth is fundamental.

Habitual lying is a serious defect. Lying becomes dangerous when a person regularly deceives oneself. It happens when people seek to avoid guilt and to maintain a false self-image of perfection. Dangerous liars deceive others as they deceive themselves. They find targets -- scapegoats -- for projecting their own darkness, even though they may be charming toward others. Dangerous liars are unable to think or feel from the viewpoint of their victims. They are coercive and strong willed. They often maintain a high level of respectability. They will lie continually to maintain their status. Dangerous liars lie consistently. They cannot tolerate criticism. They run away from their own faults, imagining themselves to be morally superior, and they focus their criticism on others. M. Scott Peck writes about these habits in his 1983 book "People of the Lie."

Our nation has been under assault by people of the lie. A large proportion of our neighbors live inside communication silos that generate habitual lies. Those friends and neighbors may have little access to truth. Misinformation abounds. Reason, science, fact, evidence and civility are under attack. The recent assault on our nation's capitol brought much of this dark underground into the light where we could see it for what it is. We have a lot of work to do to heal the harm the lying has already accomplished.

Donald Trump is not committed to the truth. His lies have hurt us.

The deadliest collection of his lies were about the coronavirus. My daughter knew in late January 2020 that the U.S. was in deadly peril. She remembered a high school study project about pandemics. She knew from news reports the extreme danger we faced. Mr. Trump knew also. But a virus was inconvenient to his selfish interests, so he lied. It's like the flu. One day, like a miracle, it will disappear. He refused evidence-based recommendations that could prevent the virus' spread. He dismissed wearing masks and practicing social distancing. He politicized our best strategies for prevention, making masks controversial. He became a super-spreader, hosting events with little regard for public safety. Finally, there was no coherent plan for administering vaccinations. We have -- 400,000 deaths later -- high unemployment, failing businesses and millions on the verge of homelessness. If Congress fails to protect the unemployed and those facing eviction, the long-term economic consequences will be exponentially worse.

Mr. Trump's other big lie was his false assertion that he won re-election. A network of lies amplified his falsehood. Political leaders who should know better endorsed the lie. A dark web of misinformation intensified passions. Finally, a violent mob tried to overturn a legal, democratic election.

There is a third big lie that threatens us – the lie of the climate change deniers. The science is compelling. Our weather, oceans, crops, and all living beings are threatened by the rise in carbon dioxide. It's a fact. Like viruses, the atmosphere doesn't care about opinions.

Our first step toward social and political health is a commitment to truth. In areas where we can make evidence-based decisions, we need courage to follow the evidence.

In the post-Trump era, it's time to shed light on the networks of misinformation. There are helpful online services. I like the Pulitzer Prize winning website politifact.com and the University of Pennsylvania's FactCheck.org. Snopes.com is helpful for social media posts and emails.

MediaBiasFactCheck.com is a great resource that ranks many information sources on two continuum: Left-Right Bias and Factual Reporting. Try running a filtered search to find news sources that rank "high" for factual reporting and then choose your bias. I prefer sources closer to the left-right center. This newspaper ranks "high" for accuracy and "right-center" for bias.

Information is like food. You become what you consume. Our nation could use a healthy season of fasting from lies.

We've been wounded by lies. Now our nation has some healing to do. The wonderful inaugural poet Amanda Gorman offers us this:

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:

That even as we hurt, we hoped

That even as we tired, we tried...

We will not march back to what was

but move to what shall be

A country that is bruised but whole,

benevolent but bold,

fierce and free

Lowell Grisham is a retired Episcopal priest who lives in Fayetteville. Email him at [email protected]

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