We all know about how political candidates tend to be very different from the same individual in office, especially when it comes to fulfill campaign promises. Sometimes, the fulfillment of the promise proves impossible when confronted with the realities of the office – but sometimes, the promise was given for the sole purpose of getting the votes with no intention whatsoever of fulfilling it. And yet we keep getting duped by people who keep promising the moon and delivering nothing of the sort.
If there is one thing I've learned in my almost 30 years working as a Jewish communal worker, and most certainly in the last 13 serving as Federation Executive Director, is that (too use another catch phrase) “you can fool some people all the time, you can fool all people some of the time, but you cannot fool all people all the time”. And this means that lies and duplicity will eventually catch up with you and that only an open and honest approach to issues as well as transparency in whatever you do can help you, eventually, to have a positive impact through what you do and allow that impact to stick rather than falling apart like a house of cards. This, as so many other issues, is as true for people as it is for nations and of course, organizations.
We all went through the phase of “faking it” to be more popular in school or to receive praise from somebody or to appear attractive to somebody we were interested in...and we all learn the same lesson: in the long term, faking it doesn't cut it. We might have gotten away with it for a while, but sooner or later, all our faking came back to haunt us – and hopefully we learned from it.
On the national scale, some leaders openly lie to their people and make impossible promises until eventually they need to use the repressive apparatus of the State to remain in power. From another perspective, some leaders create an alternative version of reality that they feed to their people (Arafat was very good at this one as were his Soviet patrons). This alternative version of reality of course creates dissonances with the world around them, and when those around them do not react in the way they predicted they are forced to create additional lies to explain it. A case in point is the recent comment by a Jihadist preacher in Norway who stated that the reason Norwegians are not converting to Islam and in fact distrust Muslims, is because the Jews control the Media and project a negative image of Islam. There are other variations of the implication of lies used for political purposes at the national level, but historically every one of them crumbled. Gone is Nazism, and Soviet Communism, and many dictators around the world. Sometimes it takes longer and the cost is high – but they all crumble with the card house they built.
The organizational level is subtler. Organizations exist because people support them, and people support them because they trust the organizations. When organizations consistently lie to their members, sooner or later they loose their support and begin the slippery slope to the trash bin of history. Organizations do not necessarily have to lie openly...just withholding information or presenting a selected set of facts while hiding others is also a way of deceiving their members. Sometimes organizations lie (actively or by omission) for a very long time until they become unaware that they are lying; their leadership becomes absolutely convinced that what they are doing is necessary for the survival of the organization.
One of the problems with organizations feeding inaccurate or incomplete information to their public is that eventually it affects the organization's ability to recruit new members, and that difficulty grows progressively worse eventually leading to what can be called “volunteer pool collapse” or, in less technical terms “nobody supports the organization”, an assumption that sometimes can be true, but sometimes is just a reflection of the leadership's disappointment over people not caring enough to buy into the alternative version of organizational reality they are selling. In other words, continuous deception or misinformation eventually comes back to haunt the organization, and when that happens it is generally late to use simple stopgaps. Or, as my great grandmother would have said, “Es elfs vi a toytn bankes” (It helps as much as suction cups help a corpse).
One of the ways organizations – or governments – most often feed misinformation is by using ambiguity. We could say that in these cases, the organization convinces itself that it is not really lying, but just presenting facts in a different way. And they might get away with it...for a while. When the duplicity is exposed – and sooner or later it is – one of the possible “ways out” of the mess is to find somebody to blame. As in “I did it because he told me to” or some variation which allows the organization and its leadership to completely avoid responsibility or at least spread it around. In the long run, however, this doesn't work either.
For individuals, or nations, or organizations, to evolve and grow, it is important (as another old saying goes) to grab the bull by the horns. This meaning to confront whatever is the situation, analyze it, share it clearly with the membership/leadership/citizenship and to recognize that sometimes the only way out is through the mess. Sometimes we have options, sometimes we do not. Honesty, however, will always ensure a chance for change and adaptation – and maybe even growth.
A Twentieth Century European philosopher once said “If being born is to become aware of our environment, many people die without ever being born”. Becoming aware of our environment demands that we be honest with ourselves and others – and once we are aware of our environment, that awareness moves us to action to make a better organization...or society...or country...and even a better world.