How liars and thieves get away

By: Jose Ma. Montelibano - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | October 21,2022 - 08:00 AM

There have been times when the truth has been swept aside without compunction in favor of a lie that the powerful had wanted to spread. I remember Adolf Hitler and his chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels. They made an art form of lying by raising it to thematic propaganda.

More modern leaders of governments have followed suit, no hesitation about lying and packaging it to be propaganda just like Hitler and Goebbels. I will desist from naming names but they involve great countries with dictators on top. There has to be a dictator when the government engages in propaganda as its main communication strategy. Freedom-loving people simply cannot support lying as a fundamental practice because it disrupts the very sense of order in daily societal life.

Truth is not just a moral or ethical standard. In other words, truth is a virtue but is such because its opposite, a lie, would trigger confusion, friction, hostility, and violence among human beings. The truth is not just there to conform to religious beliefs, it is there to allow human beings to live as families, as communities, and as a nation. Without a strong foundation for relationships to depend on, such as the truth, the human race would not survive.

Take a family as an example. When parents, and most parents do, tell their children not to lie to them and one another, they may not be thinking of heaven and hell. The truth appeals directly to a human need to know, and to know correctly. Knowing facts, a most critical component of truth, allows man to survive. Danger is sensed, and then danger is foretold by certain facts, like the terrain hosting wild animals or criminals, or when typhoons and fires are approaching. Telling lies can mean killing others, and many laws punish lies that do.

A family that stays together is not only because they pray together; it is also because they tell the truth to one another. Nothing is more so insidious as lies destroying the harmony of a family, or a group of friends, or a community. For a family, it is worse. Respecting elders is a primordial demand, and telling the truth to them is the most visible sign of that familial respect. From experience and observation, I know most Filipino parents teach their children to be truthful.

Stealing. Stealing is the usual partner-in-crime of lying. They are powerful partners in disturbing the peace, in triggering conflict and violence within any circle of human beings – including the family. A family that steals from one another is a family whose members will soon harm, even kill, one another. And it is Biblical, too. No wonder lying and stealing are usual acts condemned by religions.

Take a classroom of students in a school as our next example. If the teacher or the authorities lie about what time school starts, or what subjects are taught for each time slot, there will be pure chaos. It may seem comical when we imagine teachers and school authorities lying to their students. Should it not be as comical to imagine students lying to their teachers and school authorities? It is not. Students can get expelled from simple lying.

What more, then, for stealing? Imagine a classroom where classmates steal from one another, steal from the teacher, and steal from school authorities. Or vice-versa, which is much worse, teachers and authorities stealing from their students. What will be the very credibility of a school where stealing is rampant? Even graduates there would be suspect in other environments. In an atmosphere where stealing is a constant practice in school and in classrooms, criminality will be a natural consequence.

The best example, though, is the workplace. Companies and organizations comprise the largest institutions of business, including government itself. With few exceptions, and we can cite some later, these employers have one common rule – lying and stealing are grounds for termination, or prosecution. In fact, suspecting that the applicant for employment is a liar or a thief will be enough not to hire the person. Because companies and organizations cannot survive, much less prosper, with liars and thieves as executives or employees.

There is a constant and continuing set of circumstances that influence a person throughout his or her life that would elevate and reward truth and honesty – and punish lying and stealing. From family, community, school and workplace, these virtues and vices are deeply contrasted and applauded or condemned. That is why the laws of the land would simply be affirming to the cultural preferences of the people, praising the truthful and honest, punishing the liars and thieves.

The exceptions as I mentioned above would be illegal or criminal groups which would need liars and thieves as their preferred colleagues. Their business, being illegal or criminal, need corresponding talents and corrupted workers. I can say, though, with deep conviction, that honor among thieves is also practiced. Those who lie and steal from one another are often meted death.

Now, if we reflect on Filipinos, as ordinary citizens, as public officials or employees, as corporate workers or members of institutions and organizations, I wonder how we would assess ourselves.

A serious national exercise just took place months ago, giving citizens as voters a chance to measure their values against what customs and laws demand of us in the areas of lying and stealing. Political campaigns and elections are highlights, of course, but at the same time, they show us how cooperative, how tolerant, and how accepting we can be of liars and thieves despite everything we had been taught prior.

Because campaign and election periods, while highlights, speak of our propensity and preparation towards lying and stealing. Worse, in the lying department, we may have grown accustomed to lies as being a frequent fact around our lives.

And worse, much worse, are individuals or groups who design and orchestrate the lies and thievery, making victims of us all – and some willing, at that.

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