What is honesty? Telling the truth? For that matter, what is truth? Hang on. I’m about to go deep.
As regular readers of this blog will already know, this year will be my 10th anniversary of working in the ecommerce industry. Along the way I’ve learned a few things, but none more stark or challenging than what I’ve faced in terms of honesty vs. dishonesty, truth vs. lies, trustworthiness vs. deception, and facts vs. lies.
Thinking back on my “career” I realize, of course, that this phenomenon is clearly not isolated to ecommerce. Not based on what I’ve seen during my experiences. If I really think it over, I can find examples of every employer I’ve ever dealt with being lying assholes. Every single job I’ve ever had taught me important life lessons like these.
Editor’s Note: At this point the writing process went decidedly sideways. The 10,000 words that followed have been cut and saved in a draft post called “My Resume.” It detailed life lessons learned from every single job I’ve ever had and in excruciating detail. Maybe somewhere over the rainbow that post will see the light of day. Until then, however, I’ve self-corrected the diversion and will now continue with the topic at hand: honesty.
Under the context of my career, I recently realized that honesty (or lack thereof) has been the Bugaboo peeking over my shoulder every step of the way. So I’ve been thinking and pondering about it quite a bit.
My last two employers have been very religious folk. Even as an atheist I would surmise that would elevate them a cut above your average bear, at least in terms of honesty. That has decidedly not been the case.
Confused by this, I turned to the word of God for enlightenment. After all, isn’t “thou shalt not lie” one of the biggies on God’s top ten list?
Turns out it’s not. Well, not exactly.
First of all, the Bible was written by humans. It is not the direct word of God. Remember that game we played as children? Stand in a line, whisper something, then pass it on down the line. More often than not, something gets changed during the act of passing the communication along. Do you think it’s possible that anything like that could have conceivably crept into the writing of the Bible by those human hands?
Then I remembered when some public figure was raising a ruckus about having a 5,000 pound monument of the ten commandments on public lands. He was asked by a reporter if he could name all ten commandments. He couldn’t. (What a shocker.) Perhaps that’s why he needed the reminder around.
The words “thou shalt not lie” (or their translated equivalents) don’t exist in the Bible. What the Bible actually says is:
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
See: Translations of Exodus 20:16
As an idiot layman, I’ve always taken this at face value. In other words, “do not lie.” It turns out, that for some, it’s not quite so simple.
According to Wikipedia, there are three schools of thought regarding the “false witness” commandment:
- It’s a narrow prohibition against lying in courtroom testimony
- It only applies to false statements that degrade a neighbor’s reputation or dignity
- It’s a prohibition on all lying
Wow! Who knew there could ever be so much disagreement about something as seemingly concrete as a commandment from God?
It seems to me that the Bible often works like this. One section will say, “Always do X but never do Y.” Then another section will say, “Always do Y but never do X.” Thus, you don’t simply read the Bible and do what it says. It has to be subjected to a round of interpretation first. That phase of understanding is done by humans to the word of God in an attempt to divine the real meaning. You’ll often hear people speak about how a certain text can only be understood within a certain “context” or by comparing it to other passages to get the overall meaning. That sort of thing is dangerous because it leaves things open to many varying interpretations.
As an atheist, I’m woefully free of such considerations. Some have said, “Without God there can be no ethics.” I argue the opposite. Without having to ponder and study a religious text, I can simply say, “I will not lie.” I don’t have to comb through the Bible for exceptions.
Consider the people who believe the command in the narrowest possible sense, that it only applies to courtroom testimony. The logical extension of that belief is: “It is not necessarily wrong to lie anywhere else.”
Consider the second example, where lying is only prohibited when it causes harm. I call this one the “business lie” clause. The ecommerce people who’ve engaged me in debate about the ethics of what they do frequently cite various versions of this. “I’m not hurting anyone with the lie.” The logical extension of this? “Therefore the lying is acceptable.”
I argue that my belief is actually the freest one of all. I’m unencumbered by faulty logic and justifications. I simply get to concentrate on trying to be as honest as I possibly can. In logical terms, my position regarding lying is the most ethical, not a narrower definition as allowed by some interpretation of the Bible.
By the way, guess who squeals the most when someone is on the receiving end of dishonesty? Yup. You guessed it. These very same people who lie on their websites as a matter of routine. When that happens you can bet your ass it is a Federal case. That’s hypocrisy, a close personal friend of dishonesty. They skip together through life hand in hand.
In my opinion, telling the truth isn’t about positive or negative. However, I still feel pretty darn negative about what I’ve seen in the business world and, more specifically, ecommerce. And that’s the truth!