My father was an inveterate fisherman. He’d rather have been out on the water with a pole in his hand than anywhere else. When he returned home, he would always say, “You should have seen the one I hooked. But it got away.” He’d hold his hands five feet apart to show the size of the fish and grin at us.
As a little girl, I remember asking my mother if Daddy was lying to us about the fish. She said, “No, your father is an honest man. He’s just exaggerating. Everyone knows his fish aren’t that big. A lie is meant to deceive, and your father doesn’t do that.”
As I grew, she helped me learn the finer points. Car commercials were almost always exaggeration, hyperbole. But they couldn’t lie—or at least, they shouldn’t. The dog ate my homework is a bald-faced lie, especially if that student has a cat!
As a business owner and an observer of the political system, I’ve learned the middle ground between lying and exaggerating: parsing the truth.
“I attended Harvard during the ‘80s.” That can mean one course, or it can mean a degree.
“Our company is an active supporter of the Red Cross.” That can mean one small donation, or it can mean years of regular contributions.
Sometimes it’s really hard to tell the truth, and in some cases the whole truth will hurt people.
The New York Times fact-checks politicians using terms like overstated, highly unlikely, grains of truth, mostly true, mostly right, misleading.
It’s up to us to always listen carefully and, if the topic is important, ask for details and check them.
And it’s up to us, even more so, to speak carefully and remember that one lie can tarnish a reputation forever.
President and CEO