Sunday, August 19, 2007

Abe Lincoln and Ben Franklin Told It Straight

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Half the truth is often a great lie.
- Benjamin Franklin, statesman, author, and inventor (1706-1790)

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.
- Abraham Lincoln, 16th US president (1809-1865

I couldn't resist putting quotes from these two great Americans together because they both point toward the truth.

Franklin said that half the truth is a lie. Lincoln that to be silent about the truth makes us cowards.

Does a woman who has just spent a few hundred dollars to buy a new dress that doesn't suit her but she bought it because the sales clerk said it looked great on her, then models it before her husband before going out for an evening with friends, want to hear the truth about how she looks or a "white lie?"

Conventional wisdom says that the husband should lie through his teeth if he wants his wife to enjoy the evening, and to enjoy it himself. She wants flattery, not the truth, so we are told.

So she wears her new dress out to a party where her friends offer her similar flattering compliments while thinking to themselves and saying to each other that perhaps this woman has totally lost her taste for attractive clothes.

The lie was successful for a short time, but the truth became public and will stay around like a bad smell for ages.

The US invaded Iraq because US intelligence reports stated that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam said he had no such thing. In fact, the US had given Saddam the same weapons they accused him of having later, so Iraq had WMD for some period of time. What US intelligence failed to account for was how Saddam had used up what they had given him.

For the sake of that half truth, the war in Iraq costs US taxpayers over two billion dollars per day, every day for years.

Stockholders of Enron loved the unbelievable results their company posted for several years, naively trusting that the unbelievable must be true because they read it in Enron's annual statements. When the truth came home to rest, they blamed Enron, not themselves, for believing that the stock was too good to be true.

We know that our education system has charge of students who are committing suicide at a greater rate than ever before, committing acts of violence in school and outside at an unprecedented rate, taking drugs and alcohol at levels unimaginable to their parents.

Rather than teaching our children what they need to know as adults, we leave it up to our governments to put the bad guys in prison and insist that our schools do a better job of teaching the 3Rs. It's important to us that our children be kept as innocent as possible for as long as possible.

Ignorance has devastating results. Believing lies makes it worse.

This is the culture we teach our children, by example, by role modelling as parents. Somehow, though people always get hurt by a lie or a half truth, we have embraced the idea that short term gain is worth the long term pain. The drug that makes us feel so great for a few minutes but like hell for hours afterward is worth it, according to what we teach our children.

I disagree. Avoiding the truth, no matter what the circumstances, means more pain, more hurt, more damage later.

Perhaps while we change our ways to teach our children the long term value of truth we can also teach them how to word the truth in such a way that its delivery isn't painful. It can be done. It's simply a matter of learning how to use the language effectively.

When would teachers ever have time to teach such life lessons? When they must spend less time focusing on discipline and punishment because their students know the truth about why they are in school and what they can expect in their future, they will have time to teach what the kids really need.

We accept teenage angst as a function of life in this time of history. Teens don't rebel in every culture. They do so mostly in western cultures where we don't teach them what they need to know about life. They know what they don't know and they rebel because we refuse to teach them. And we say they're bad.

We see what is happening but say nothing about it.

No child of three years wants to grow up to be a criminal, a junkie, an alcoholic, an abuser of his or her spouse. Kids go that way because they don't receive life lessons before they need them. They crack when they can't cope with their lives because they didn't have the skills they needed.

Childhood innocence means adult ignorance. Adult ignorance means troubled times.

All we have to do is to teach children the good lessons they need.

This is a good day to start. And don't be quiet about it.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, the book that tells us how to do it with a minimum of fuss and expense and maximum effect.
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