Thursday, June 25, 2015

It's Not Rare to Err - Or to Cover It Up

Have you seen one of those sitcom episodes where one of the main characters does something careless or foolish, but instead of ‘fessin’ up to it, proceeds to lie about it instead? That falsehood leads to another, then another, until the magnitude of the original issue is dwarfed by the dilemma it has grown into. The deception becomes far worse than the original deed.

“Why didn’t they just admit what they did in the first place?” we wonder, caught up as viewers in the fictitious circumstances. “They turned a little molehill into a mountain.” Of course, if they had addressed the situation when it occurred, it would have spoiled the TV comedy’s storyline. But sometimes we do the same thing in real life and often, unlike the sitcoms, the end result isn’t funny-ha-ha.

Walt Disney's Pinocchio, and
pal, Jiminy Cricket, are icons
for the perils of dishonesty.
And yet, “To err is human,” right? We’ve all heard somebody say that. You’ve probably said it yourself. And it’s true – nobody’s perfect. In fact, some people seem determined to turn their imperfections into a fine art. Everyone makes mistakes, so what’s the big deal?

Well, just as to err is human, so it seems the practice of trying to cover it up is, too. Think Adam and Eve and the proverbial fig leaves. Politics and politicians have provided us with countless glowing examples – consider Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, Iran-Contra, or Benghazi just for starters. Then there are scandals in business, the entertainment world, manufacturing, the sciences, education, and sadly, even in the realm of religion. For all segments of society, cover-ups are common.

Rather than stepping up immediately and admitting what was done – or not done – for whatever reason we have a tendency to try and sweep it under the rug, so to speak. (Not easy to do these days, especially if you only have hardwood floors!)

Not long ago I came across an interesting quote by somebody named Dan Heist that fits here: “When you realize you’ve made a mistake, make amends immediately. It’s easier to eat crow while it’s still warm.” Crow doesn’t sound appetizing at any temperature, but his advice has a lot of merit. Why complicate our deceptions?

Sometimes, however, admitting to our errors is difficult. Maybe it’s a matter of pride, reluctance to concede we’ve made a mistake. Or we fear the repercussions, so we unwisely choose to conceal the truth, hoping it will never be exposed so no one will ever know the difference. The problem is, if and when the truth does materialize – as is typically the case, sooner or later – consequences are generally compounded.

This is one reason the Bible places such a high premium on honesty, even including it among the Ten Commandments: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). This commandment not only tells us what we shouldn’t do – to be dishonest, deceptive or to conceal the facts – but also instructs us to be truthful and forthright in our dealings with others.

In Proverbs, we read repeatedly how costly it can be to be dishonest about our mistakes and wrongdoing. For instance, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free” (Proverbs 19:5).

The value of integrity shouldn’t be underestimated, we’re told. “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9). Being willing to admit our mistakes is like driving on a smoothly paved highway, while deception gives a “ride” more like a bumpy, hole-filled country road: “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3).

In numerous other passages the Bible addresses honesty, dishonesty and integrity, but one verse in particular uses interesting imagery to applaud the virtues of being truthful in all of our dealings: “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (Proverbs 24:26).

To err definitely is human, just as it is human to sin – to miss the mark of God’s perfect standard. But as we strive to do better, the best approach is at least to be honest about when we fall short, even if it’s uncomfortable or painful. As Heist observed, if you’re going to have to eat crow, it’s best to do so while it’s still warm. 

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