Sunday, April 24, 2011

Searching for the truth

According to Wikipedia a lie (also called prevarication, falsehood) is a type of deception in the form of an untruthful statement, especially with the intention to deceive others.

Why am I writing about this?
Last week, liars or those who lie seemed to be the theme of my week:

First, I was filling out an amended form with one of my company’s salesmen when he told me to lie about the reason for the amendment. Our conversation went like this:

“Why would I write that? It isn’t true.”

“It is easier. I tend to do things the easy way.”

Naturally, I refused and we ended up compromising with me just stating the facts: previous form was submitted in error.

Later that day, another salesman asked me why he hadn’t been paid a commission for one of his sales. I spent thirty minutes researching the deal, eventually coming across an email I had sent his manager. (The sale had cost more than the salesman had predicted and I had asked his manager to approve my commission calculation based on the revised cost.) He had done so and I had paid the salesman his commission last month. When I told the salesman he had been paid he admitted he knew that, but wasn’t happy with the amount he’d received. Then why did he tell me he hadn’t been paid? What was his intention? Did he think I would accidentally pay him again?

Both of these scenarios infuriated me. These salesmen have lied to me in the past and I can guarantee I will think twice before I believe anything they say in the future. As my boss says:
When working with a salesman assume they are lying until proven otherwise.*
Which brings me to the story of the week: 60 Minutes and author Jon Krakauer reported Greg Mortenson the co-author of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time lied about events in his book and may have benefited from donations to his charity to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

My first thought upon hearing about Mortenson was thank goodness I had read Citizen Reader's review of the book and had taken it off my TBR list.  My second thought was that lying scum.  One of the reasons I read non-fiction is to learn the truth. If I can't believe a non-fiction author who can I believe? Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness discussed this topic in her post No, Lies Do Really Matter (Especially in Nonfiction)

Kim gives us her thoughts:
What is not inspirational is nonfiction that plays fast and loose with what has actually happened. It’s laziness to the supreme. Not only has the author been too lazy to research a true story enough to tell it accurately and well, he/she has also not been brave enough to write fiction from what is in his/her heart. Both of those types of writing take more effort than nonfiction filled with lies and distortions, and I don’t want to waste my time as a reader with writing that is lazy.
She asks:

How do you view truth in nonfiction — is alteration of the facts permissible if the story is “inspirational,” if the author admits and explains why, or never at all?
I love Kim’s take:

Nonfiction that plays fast and loose with what has actually happened. It’s laziness to the supreme.
My week culminated with me finishing Matt Taibbi’s book Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America which may be the most eye-opening book about what is going on in this country I've ever read. Griftopia begins with

But in a country where every Joe the Plumber thinks he is one clogged toilet away from being rich himself, we’re all invested in rigging the system for the rich and ends with an expose of Goldman Sachs, perhaps the most unscrupulous player behind the Great Recession, walking away pretty much unscathed and intact.

To answer Kim's question non-fiction needs to be true. In this country where more people can rattle off how many times Lindsay Lohan has been in jail than realize they are being conned by fast talking swindlers and bureaucrats pushing the latest bubble (or charity in Mortenson's case) we don’t need “inspirational” alteration of non-fiction. I can accept some alteration of facts for privacy's sake, but if a story is changed to make it more "inspirational" it is fiction.

*Which reminds me of my golden rule. If we (co-workers) think our salesmen are rude, incompetent, liars, etc., so do our customers.


  1. I was really sorry to hear about the Mortenson lies becuase my husband loved the book and we paid good money to go hear him talk. I cannot stand lies. Tell the truth and take responsibility for your actions. It's the only way to be respected in life - much less work!

    Good post, Savvy!

  2. I don't have to deal with salespeople in an administrative capacity, but I sit next to them at the office and can't believe some of the things they tell customers on the phone! Both of the things you dealt with sound worse those -- how annoying!

    I have Griftopia on my TBR list, but haven't gotten to it yet. I've read lots of good mentions of it though.

    Thanks for linking to my post -- the whole Mortenson thing really frustrates me.

  3. ^devil's advocate... I've heard a professor postulate (specifically referring to the lies Miles Davis told in his autobiography) that it's a more interesting intellectual exercise to find out why the lying author said what he said than to simply brush him aside as a "liar"... and perhaps it is?

    (I pretty much agree with you though.)

    Stopping in from the LBS tea party.